116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — It's this simple: Win, and a Big Ten women's basketball regular-season championship — the first in 12 years — becomes a distinct possibility for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
'It would be monumental,' Coach Lisa Bluder said.
If only it was that easy.
The road to the league lead literally runs through College Park, Md., where the 17th-ranked Hawkeyes (20-4 overall, 11-2 Big Ten) face No. 10 Maryland (20-4, 11-2).
Tipoff is 5 p.m. (CT) Thursday at Xfinity Center.
'I'm really proud to be talking about it,' Bluder said Wednesday. 'Five games left and we're playing for a Big Ten championship.
'In August, if you'd told us that, we would be thrilled. We have to remember that and be thrilled for the opportunity.'
Maryland has been the gold standard in the Big Ten since its arrival in 2014, winning four regular-season titles (three outright) in its first five years in the league.
But the Hawkeyes have enjoyed success against the Terrapins lately, winning the last three meetings with Cedar Rapids native Brenda Frese's squad, including a 90-76 conquest at the Big Ten tournament last March in Indianapolis.
'We know we can beat them. We've done it before,' Iowa guard Kathleen Doyle said.
They haven't done it at College Park, though. This would be another landmark. Keep in mind that the Terrapins have lost once at home this season — to No. 1 South Carolina.
'I'm sure they've had this one circled for quite some time,' Bluder said. 'We're going to have to be near-perfect.'
Iowa earned a 66-61 victory over the Terrapins in a bizarre game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Jan. 9. The Hawkeyes somehow prevailed despite giving up 38 offensive rebounds and losing the board battle, 59-35.
'We really, really need to focus on boxing out,' Makenzie Meyer said. 'We got lucky last time because they weren't able to convert.'
Maryland shot a miserable 31 percent (26 of 84) from the floor. The Hawkeyes committed 23 turnovers, Maryland 22.
'Both teams would say it was sloppy,' Doyle said. 'The stats were ridiculous. Both teams will try to do it better.'
The Terrapins have won nine straight games, all by nine points or more, since the loss at Carver. This is the Maryland team most expected, the team that entered the season as a heavy favorite to win the league title.
'We know they're a really good team,' Meyer said. 'If we want to go to Maryland and have a positive outcome, we have to come out and give a full 40 minutes.'
Maryland's Kaila Charles was the preseason pick for Big Ten player of the year. But lately, it has been Doyle (18.7 points, 6.5 assists per game) that has been turning heads and gaining support.
On Monday's BTN telecast, commentator Tyra Buss said Doyle would have her vote. And Wednesday, ESPN.com tabbed Doyle as the 17th-best player in the country. She was the only Big Ten player in the top 25.
"Kathleen can score whenever she wants,' Meyer said. 'I think she's the toughest player in the Big Ten to stop.'
Should the Hawkeyes win Thursday, they will own a one-game lead over the Terrapins — plus the tiebreaker — with four games to play, and Northwestern (20-3, 10-2) becomes the primary team chasing them.
If not, well, Maryland's in the position everybody expected, and the Terrapins have a soft closing schedule.
'It's another opportunity for us to prove people wrong,' Iowa's Alexis Sevillian said.
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