IOWA CITY — Two important, yet totally unrelated, events happened for the Iowa women’s basketball team in December 1996.
On Dec. 13, Megan Gustafson was born.
Ten days earlier, the Hawkeyes made their most recent appearance in the top 10. Their most recent, until now.
“It’s super cool to be ranked that high,” Kathleen Doyle said Wednesday. “It’s something you dream about, being among the elite.”
The 10th-ranked Hawkeyes (21-5 overall, 12-3 Big Ten) have positioned themselves for big things down the stretch. Big, as in a conference championship, something they haven’t accomplished since 2008.
“It’s definitely an exciting time of the season,” Gustafson said. “February is winding down, and we have some really big games that are going to determine (our fate).
“We’ve got to bring our full energy and full focus every day.”
Iowa faces slumping Indiana (17-10, 6-9) Thursday at Assembly Hall in Bloomington. Tipoff is 7 p.m. (Iowa time).
After vanquishing mighty Maryland on Sunday for a share of the Big Ten lead — both the Hawkeyes and Terrapins are 12-3 with three games remaining — the focus is to stay sharp, finish strong and give themselves a chance to do something special.
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“We don’t want to stub our toes now,” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said. “We don’t want to lose something that is well within our grasp now.”
Two of Iowa’s last three regular-season games are on the road. After facing the Hoosiers, Iowa goes to Nebraska on Monday, then closes it out March 3 at home against Northwestern.
Maryland, meanwhile, finishes with Minnesota (home), Purdue (away) and Illinois (home).
Indiana has its own incentive. A pleasant surprise earlier in the Big Ten season (they were 4-1 at one point), the Hoosiers have stumbled since an injury to point guard Ali Patberg, who Bluder expects to return Thursday.
The Hoosiers are 11th in the league standings, and if they stay there, they’ll be playing on the first day of the Big Ten tournament.
“They’re a solid team, but they’ve struggled lately,” Doyle said. “We know what they’re capable of.”
Meanwhile, Iowa already has clinched a double-bye and won’t be playing until the third day in Indianapolis. Now, they’d like to stay hot and earn the No. 1 seed.
As of Wednesday, the Hawkeyes’ RPI is 8, and they are currently projected as a No. 3 seed for the NCAA Tournament.
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