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IOWA CITY — Looking for a good post-holiday mystery? Tune in to Thursday’s Northwestern-Iowa women’s basketball game.
You’ve got the Wildcats, who will be playing their first game in 20 days.
And you’ve got the Hawkeyes, who might be back at full strength. Or might not.
“I’m not going to talk about our starting lineup,” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said. “I’m not going to disclose that yet.”
Iowa was without starters Monika Czinano and McKenna Warnock on Sunday due to COVID-19 protocol, but still breezed past Evansville, 93-56, thanks to a 44-point explosion by Caitlin Clark.
The availability of Czinano (17.9 points per game) and Warnock (12.3) — the second- and third-leading scorers for the 22nd-ranked Hawkeyes — probably won’t be known until warmups for the Big Ten encounter; tipoff is 7 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Seniors Tomi Taiwo and Logan Cook received their first career starts Sunday. The rest of the reserves moved up in the rotation.
One of those was Addison O’Grady, who earned Big Ten freshman-of-the-week honors after posting 14 points and 12 rebounds.
“It gave more people the opportunity to be in at crunch time,” Bluder said. “I think that will pay dividends down the line.”
Junior Kate Martin said, “With COVID and shutdowns, it’s important to play as many games as possible, and getting one under our belts (Sunday) was huge.”
Iowa (7-3 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) has had five games called off due to the COVID-19 surge. Northwestern (9-3, 1-0) will be playing its first game since Dec. 17; the Wildcats’ last three games were dropped due to COVID.
So there’s no fresh tape on the Wildcats. But they have a distinctive identity.
“They are similar, year after year,” Bluder said. “Their pieces change, but their system doesn’t change.
“They’ll play a matchup zone. It’s a little different from anything we’ll see all year.”
The Wildcats’ scheme is a mainstay for Coach Joe McKeown. So is their star. Senior Veronica Burton has been the Big Ten defensive player of the year twice and leads the team in scoring at 17.6 points per game.
“She’s one of those kids that came in as a freshman and has made an impact every year,” Bluder said. “She fits their system well. I won’t be sad to see her graduate.”
Burton and the Wildcats will try to control Clark, who may have rediscovered her offensive mojo Sunday.
She hit 18 of 26 shots on her way to setting a career-high and a Carver-Hawkeye record.