IOWA CITY — Maybe they’ll get some help, and earn a share of the Big Ten women’s basketball regular-season title. Maybe they won’t.
Regardless, the Iowa Hawkeyes have plenty at stake in the next three games. Primarily, home-court advantage in the NCAA tournament.
No. 19 Iowa (21-5, 12-3 Big Ten) hosts Penn State (7-19, 1-14) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where they have won 34 consecutive games.
“If we can win our last three (regular-season) games and have a good showing — get to the finals or semifinals — in the Big Ten tournament, I think we should (host in the NCAA),” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said. “I don’t think we necessarily have to win out.”
Sixty-four teams qualify for the women’s NCAA tournament, and it’s a given that the Hawkeyes will be in the field. Now, the question is, can they be one of 16 hosts? Right now, they’re a 4 seed in a projected field by ESPN’s Charlie Creme.
The Hawkeyes are in a position few expected.
“I truly thought we could get back to the NCAA tournament,” Bluder said.
But 21-5? And still in contention for a Big Ten title?
“No, probably not,” she said. “It’s fun. It’s rewarding. It makes you feel like we’re doing the right things.”
The Naismith national coach of the year in 2019, Bluder is one of 15 finalists for the award this season.
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“First, she adjusted well to the change in personnel,” senior Makenzie Meyer said. “To have that vision ... she’s been in the business a long time. She’s such a good leader.”
With the graduation of Megan Gustafson and Hannah Stewart, Bluder scrapped her double-post offense in favor of a four-guard look. Initially, it wasn’t pretty.
“I sure didn’t expect us to be where we are, based on how we played in Spain last summer,” Meyer said. “We were definitely running into each other a lot.”
But the three games overseas — and the 10 summer practices that preceded them — proved invaluable for success this winter.
“It gave us a little jump-start,” Meyer said.
The new attack provided more freedom for Kathleen Doyle, and she has capitalized. The senior point guard leads the Big Ten in scoring, assists and possibly bruises.
“This offense is taxing, but it’s a fun style of basketball,” Doyle said. “It was nice to have two days (Monday and Tuesday) to relax.”
The Hawkeyes are a game behind Maryland (23-4, 14-2) and Northwestern (23-3, 13-2) in the loss column. They conclude the Big Ten slate with a home game against Minnesota (Thursday) and a road challenge with Rutgers (March 1).
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