Iowa Women's Basketball

Iowa-Maryland women's basketball hype on hold until late Thursday

No. 13 Hawkeyes host last-place Illinois in warmup for Sunday showdown

Iowa’s Tomi Taiwo (1) steals the ball away from Michigan State’s Shay Colley (0) during their game last Thursday. Taiwo’s minutes have increased since the injury of Makenzie Meyer. The Hawkeyes host Illinois on Thursday. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa’s Tomi Taiwo (1) steals the ball away from Michigan State’s Shay Colley (0) during their game last Thursday. Taiwo’s minutes have increased since the injury of Makenzie Meyer. The Hawkeyes host Illinois on Thursday. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — You can make the argument — and it would be a valid one — that Sunday’s game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena could be the most meaningful regular-season women’s basketball game for the Iowa Hawkeyes in a decade. Maybe more.

That’s if, and only if, the Hawkeyes don’t stub their collective toes Thursday.

“It’s business as usual for us,” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said Wednesday. “If we lose to Illinois, the Maryland game doesn’t mean that much.”

So the hype can stay on simmer for now. With a win Thursday, it gets turned up to full boil.

No. 13 Iowa (19-5 overall, 10-3 Big Ten) hosts Illinois (10-14, 2-11) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

It’s easy to talk about not looking ahead. It’s not as easy to do it.

“Our full focus is on Illinois,” Megan Gustafson said. “We’re not looking ahead. It’s important to treat every game the same. You can do that by bringing high defensive intensity and energy every single game .... not just showing up.”

That’s what Bluder expects out of a veteran team.

“They’re good at this,” she said. “They know how to handle these situations.”

OK, so maybe the Hawkeyes have blinders on. For those who don’t, here’s the situation: Iowa stands in second place in the Big Ten, one game behind Maryland (22-2, 11-2). Cedar Rapids native Brenda Frese brings the eighth-ranked Terrapins to Iowa City on Sunday.

If the Hawkeyes win both games this week and stay unbeaten at home, they are Big Ten co-leaders (at least), with three games left.

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Iowa earned a 94-75 decision at Illinois on Jan. 20. The Hawkeyes have won eight in a row against the Illini at Carver.

Makenzie Meyer has missed the last two games due to a hyperextended knee, and Bluder said that the junior from Mason City remains “day-to-day.”

Her absence has opened the door to more minutes for Alexis Sevillian, Tomi Taiwo and Amanda Ollinger.

“It’s sad when anybody goes down to injury,” said Taiwo, a freshman. “I knew I was going to be playing more minutes, and I had to contribute, both offensively and defensively. It gives me the opportunity that I can help in multiple ways.”

Gustafson is tied with Ohio State’s Jantel Lavender (2007-11) for the Big Ten record with 77 double-doubles, and will hold the league record solo — and move to eighth in NCAA Division-I history — with her next one. She is 42 points away from becoming the 71st player in the nation to score 2,500 points in a career.

“She was placed here with this cast of characters,” Bluder said. “That’s what makes this a really good story.”

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

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