By John Bohnenkamp
Iowa has played five women’s basketball games since November 17.
At least the Hawkeyes will get a game this weekend, but it took a few phone calls.
Iowa, which was supposed to play Illinois at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, will instead play Evansville in an 11 a.m. game.
The Hawkeyes, ranked 21st in the Associated Press poll, was supposed to play at Penn State on Thursday, but that game was postponed because of COVID-19 issues with the Nittany Lions. Illinois, too, has COVID-19 issues.
The Hawkeyes lost three games in November because of their COVID-19 issues — a home game against Drake, and games in the Cancun Challenge against Seton Hall and USC.
Plus, they went 10 days between games from December 8-18 because of Iowa’s finals week.
“We just, honestly, need games,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Friday. “We need to play the game of basketball.”
Iowa started the season with four consecutive wins, then after the first COVID-19 pause lost three of their next five games. The Hawkeyes are coming off a 74-73 home loss to IUPUI on December 21, a game in which they led by 18 points in the third quarter.
“I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t frustrating,” guard Caitlin Clark said. “I think especially coming off a loss, and then going into Christmas break, the only thing you want to do is play a game, especially in the Big Ten.”
Losing two games this week, and possibly not playing again until next Thursday at home against Northwestern, wasn’t going to allow the Hawkeyes to get back into any sort of rhythm.
“It’s going to take time,” Bluder said. “I really don’t know how we’re going to get our rhythm back until we get into a routine, so we can be practicing and playing on a regular basis. And that’s why this game against Evansville was so important. I certainly wanted to have a game before going into Northwestern.”
It wasn’t easy. Bluder said she and her staff reached out to several other schools that could be available after having games postponed. Evansville was scheduled to be on a two-game swing in Iowa — Thursday at Northern Iowa and Saturday at Drake — but the game with the Panthers was postponed. So, the Purple Aces will play the Hawkeyes a day after they play in Des Moines.
“They said they would play us on the way home,” Bluder said.
The Hawkeyes came back from Christmas break on Sunday. Since then, they’ve been practicing as well as doing intrasquad scrimmages.
“We do want to keep the legs, that ‘game’ mentality,” Bluder said.
“A little frustrating, but it’s out of our control,” Clark said. “That’s what we talk about every day — control what you can control. It’s frustrating, especially what we’ve been through this season.
“(The Christmas break) was a period to reset our minds, and then just come back and get better. I don’t think we were discouraged, or doubting ourselves, or pouting. That’s just who we are — we come back, go to practice every single day, and compete.”
Bluder praised her team’s attitude.
“It’s amazing how resilient they have been,” she said. “They’re probably more resilient than their coaches, who are probably pulling their hair out right now. They could have easily said, ‘Wow, we could have stayed home longer for Christmas break.’ They haven’t complained about it at all.”
Iowa had three games postponed last season, all in Big Ten play, and two were rescheduled for later in the season.
Scrambling to find games on short notice is completely different, Bluder said.
“I thought last year was strange,” she said. “This year, by far, is stranger than last year.”
Photo: Iowa’s Caitlin Clark drives to the basket in the December 18 win over Central Florida. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)