IOWA CITY — Talent trumps all.
And that, Lisa Bluder said, is why Maryland has been the face of Big Ten women’s basketball since its arrival in 2014.
“No team is going to be successful without talent,” Bluder said Friday. “A lot of talented teams implode when the going gets tough, but without talent, you don’t have anything.”
Brenda Frese, meanwhile, has something. Has had for most of the past two decades. The reason is simple: 12 top-10 recruiting classes.
“She has done a great job of recruiting,” Bluder said. “That’s not taking away anything from her ability as a game coach, because she’s great at that as well. But her recruiting is spot-on. She has an impressive team, filled with All-Americans. They’re strong at every position.”
But if there’s a time for the Hawkeyes to break through, it’s now.
No. 13 Iowa (20-5 overall, 11-3 Big Ten) welcomes Frese — a Cedar Rapids native — and No. 8 Maryland (23-2, 12-2) at noon Sunday for a pivotal game.
Win, and the Hawkeyes own a share of the Big Ten lead, and have the inside track for the No. 1 seed at the Big Ten tournament, with three games to go.
Iowa’s last Big Ten regular-season title came in 2008. The Hawkeyes were picked second to Maryland preseason, and that’s how it has played out so far.
The Terrapins have won eight straight games, all by 12 points or more.
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“We have seen marked improvements,” Frese said. “We’ve started to move that needle.”
Iowa has won nine of its last 10, setting up its biggest regular-season game in a decade. After the Hawkeyes steamrolled Illinois 88-66 Thursday, Bluder prepared a pot of chicken enchilada soup, and she and her staff began preparation on the Terrapins.
Priority No. 1 will be handling full-court pressure.
“We’ve had teams that have pressed us here and there, but they’re going to press us a lot,” Bluder said. “It’s not so much that they’re going to turn you over, but they’re going to make it so that you turn yourself over.
“The best way to make a team stop pressing you is to attack it and beat it.”
That’s the responsibility of Tania Davis and Kathleen Doyle, who have combined for 223 assists and 94 turnovers this season.
Another guard, Makenzie Meyer returned Thursday after missing two games with a hyperextended knee. She scored 10 points in 17 minutes.
“It’s extremely valuable to have her back,” Bluder said.
Frese called Iowa post Megan Gustafson (27.3 points, 13.0 rebounds per game, 70.9-percent field-goal shooting) “one of the best 10 players in the country,” but has a gem of her own in junior Kaila Charles, who averages 16.2 points and 6.1 rebounds per contest.
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