Iowa Women's Basketball

Don't call Minnesota a 'must-win,' but Iowa women's basketball sure could use it

Hawkeyes need a win at Minnesota to stay in striking range in the Big Ten

Iowa’s Megan Gustafson (10) guards the ball under pressure from Wisconsin’s Jasmine Hale (23) and Imani Lewis (34) during the Hawkeyes’ win last Monday. Iowa is at Minnesota on Monday. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Iowa’s Megan Gustafson (10) guards the ball under pressure from Wisconsin’s Jasmine Hale (23) and Imani Lewis (34) during the Hawkeyes’ win last Monday. Iowa is at Minnesota on Monday. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — It’s an important game, for sure. The Iowa Hawkeyes don’t want to lose contact with the front of the pack in the Big Ten women’s basketball race.

But “must-win?” Don’t even go there with Lisa Bluder.

“There’s no such thing as must-win,” the Hawkeyes’ coach said Friday. “Every win is important, and every loss is not good. Calling a game must-win puts too much pressure on the players.”

Fair enough. But a 2-3 start wouldn’t be a good sign for a team that began the season with Big Ten championship chatter.

The 17th-ranked Hawkeyes (11-4 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) continue pursuit of their first league road win Monday, when they face No. 20 Minnesota (12-3, 1-3). Tipoff is 6 p.m. at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. The game is televised by ESPN2.

Bluder’s Friday teleconference came less than 24 hours after the Hawkeyes let an eight-point lead slip away in the final 6 minutes at Purdue. The Boilermakers prevailed, 62-57.

“It was a tough one, obviously,” Bluder said. “We had a lot of situations in which we just didn’t keep focus, and we shot ourselves in the foot.

“We’ve got to put it behind us. Minnesota has lost three in a row, and there’s probably going to be a lot of fight in the tiger up there.”

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Despite the recent skid, there’s a buzz about the Gophers. Lindsay Whalen, probably the most decorated player in Minnesota history, was hired as the head coach in April.

“Obviously, she was an amazing player there. I can’t say enough of her as a player,” Bluder said. “She’s done it all. She has brought a lot of attention back to the program and restarted that fan base.”

Minnesota is averaging 5,873 fans per home game, 7,270 in Big Ten play.

Senior Kenisha Bell (18.5 points, 6.5 rebounds per game) leads the Big Ten in steals at 2.3 and is “one of the fastest guards in the Big Ten,” according to Bluder. “She’ll be a WNBA player.”

The Hawkeyes were 3 of 17 from 3-point range against Purdue.

“We’re shooting enough (in practice),” Bluder said. “We just need to learn how to take it into game situations, wait until we get in-out opportunities.

“We’ve got to figure out how to get our mojo back.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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