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IOWA CITY — Lisa Bluder was at practice earlier this week when the news came down:
The ACC/Big Ten Challenge is going away.
“It’s kind of sad,” the University of Iowa women’s basketball coach said Wednesday. “I thought we had our schedule pretty much done for next year; now we’re a little bit high and dry. Certainly, we’d like to go out with a victory.”
Certainly, it will be a difficult task.
In one of the premier matchups of this year’s event, 10th-ranked Iowa (5-2) hosts No. 12 North Carolina State (6-1). Tipoff is 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in a game that will be televised nationally by ESPN2.
As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, 7,800 tickets had been sold.
This will be the first time in the 15-year history of the Challenge that the Hawkeyes and the Wolfpack have collided. Iowa is 4-10 all-time in the event, 3-4 at Carver.
Television is the reason for the ACC/Big Ten breakup. The ACC already has announced a partnership with the SEC next year.
After just getting back from a trip to Portland, Ore., Bluder isn’t interested in a Big Ten partnership with the Pac-12.
“The Big 12 would be a good matchup. Or we could look into another home-and-home,” she said. “We need to look at those options.”
Enough on the future. With the Wolfpack on Thursday, Iowa State next week (and a trip to Wisconsin wedged between on Sunday), the Hawkeyes have plenty on their immediate plates.
“North Carolina State is a good driving team, good in transition, they really like to push the ball,” Iowa senior Kate Martin said.
The teams have a common opponent in No. 3 Connecticut. The Huskies handled NC State, 91-69, in Hartford on Nov. 20, then rallied from an 11-point deficit to top Iowa, 86-79, Sunday at Portland.
Martin had a breakout game with 20 points.
“When you have great players like Monika (Czinano) and Caitlin (Clark), and we have great shooters like McKenna (Warnock) and Gabbie (Marshall), it opens things up a little bit more for me,” she said.
“Now, we just need to keep the pedal to the metal.”
North Carolina State was hit hard by graduation after advancing to the Elite Eight last year, but reloaded through the transfer portal.
Diamond Johnson, a former Rutgers player who transferred to the Wolfpack in 2021, leads the team in scoring at 13.6 points per game.
“She’s a great player,” Warnock said. “That’s a team full of great players.”