IOWA CITY — The Iowa Hawkeyes know what awaits when they visit the McLeod Center on Sunday.
“They’re going to be mad,” Coach Lisa Bluder said. “They’ll want to prove that last year was a fluke.”
Actually, it was. The Hawkeyes clobbered Northern Iowa, 88-39, last season at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes were very good that day. UNI wasn’t.
“I don’t remember much about it,” Iowa guard Tania Davis said. “We played well, and they didn’t.
“We’ve got to expect the best from them.”
Tipoff is 2 p.m. It won’t be 88-39 again.
“I expect it to be a lot closer,” Iowa post Megan Gustafson said. “They’ll be mad. But we’ll be more fired up than ever. We’ll want to take it at them.”
Part of that mentality lies in the fact that the Panthers made the NCAA tournament last year, as an at-large qualifier. The Hawkeyes settled for the WNIT.
The chase for the mythical state championship is now a three-horse race. After the 25th-ranked Hawkeyes (10-1) face UNI (3-6) Sunday, they’ll host Drake (5-5) Thursday.
All three have defeated Iowa State.
Sunday’s game is the Hawkeyes’ first since climbing into the rankings for the first time in two seasons.
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“I’m happy for our program, but it puts a target on our backs,” Bluder said. “When you go from 26 to 25, everybody wants to take down a top-25 team.”
UNI’s record isn’t indicative of its level of play. All six of the Panthers’ losses were determined either in overtime or by 10 points or less.
“They play a lot of players, they have a lot of rotations,” Bluder said. “They’re much deeper than we are.”
Seven Iowans are on the UNI roster, including four starters — Megan Maahs (Epworth), Ellie Howell (Manson), Mikaela Morgan (Coralville) and Heidi Hillyard (Burlington).
Maahs, a sophomore, is averaging 11.0 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.
She’ll battle in the paint with Gustafson, who has been honored by the Big Ten five consecutive weeks, twice as the league’s player of the week. Gustafson ranks second in the nation in field-goal percentage (.700), fifth in rebounds (12.5 per game) and 16th in scoring (21.5 points per game).
Bluder is a 1983 UNI graduate. When she played for the Panthers, their games were at the West Gym and inside the UNI-Dome.
“It was weird in the Dome,” she said. “There wasn’t much depth perception, and our 300 fans couldn’t make much noise in there.”
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