Iowa Women's Basketball

Iowa women's basketball: This year, playing at Illinois is like playing everywhere else

Every arena is quiet, so State Farm Arena won't be a shock to the Hawkeyes

Iowa women's basketball associate head coach Jan Jensen (right) talks to head coach Lisa Bluder as they walk off the cou
Iowa women’s basketball associate head coach Jan Jensen (right) talks to head coach Lisa Bluder as they walk off the court following their 90-84 win over Rutgers on Thursday. The Hawkeyes are at Illinois on Sunday. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The cavernous, quiet State Farm Arena has been a traditional shock to the system for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

That shouldn’t be the case Sunday.

“It’s different going over there,” Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder said. “It’s an awkward place to play.”

That’s because Illinois rarely draws big crowds, rarely creates a buzz. For Bluder and the Hawkeyes, the key phrase in going to Champaign in recent years has been “bring your own energy.”

Now, in a season in which fans are scarce due to COVID-19 restrictions, that’s the case everywhere.

“All of the arenas are like going to Champaign,” Bluder said. “They’re all without life.”

The Hawkeyes (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) square off with the Fighting Illini (2-3, 0-2) at 1 p.m.

Bluder said Thursday, shortly after the Hawkeyes defeated Rutgers, 90-84, that her staff was beginning their scout immediately. There was plenty with which to become acquainted.

“It’s almost an entirely new team,” Bluder said. “They’ve got some transfers and some foreign players.”

The Illini are coming off a 79-56 loss at No. 20 Indiana on Thursday.

Iowa is one of just two Division-I programs with two players averaging 20-plus points per game.

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Freshman Caitlin Clark ranks third nationally at 27.1 points per game, and junior post Monika Czinano is at an even 20.0 per contest.

Bluder is an advocate of balance, though, and the Hawkeyes have started to show more of that recently.

They had six players in double figures against Western Illinois on Dec. 22, then all five scorers reached that mark against Rutgers.

“That was a good win for us,” Bluder said. “I’m proud of our team. We hadn’t played in a long time. You never know if you’re going to be rusty or not.”

They weren’t, jumping to a 20-point lead, then answering Rutgers’ second-quarter surge.

Illinois has been a perennial bottom feeder in the Big Ten, and the Illini appear to be on that track again. They’re averaging a modest 61.6 points per game.

As Bluder mentioned, three Illinois players are from overseas — one from the U.S. Virgin Islands, one from Brazil and one (Nancy Panagiotopoulou Andritsopoulou) from Greece.

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

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