By John Bohnenkamp
The final stretch of the regular season for the Iowa women’s basketball team starts with an odd doubleheader.
The 22nd-ranked Hawkeyes play at No. 5 Indiana on Saturday, then the Hoosiers come to Carver-Hawkeye Arena for a game on Monday.
It begins what Iowa coach Lisa Bluder called an “opportunity stretch” on Friday. Iowa plays at Rutgers on Thursday before closing the regular season against No. 9 Michigan on February 27.
First, though, is two games against the Hoosiers (19-4 overall, 11-2 Big Ten) in a schedule quirk caused by the January 23 postponement of the scheduled game in Iowa City due to COVID-19 issues with Indiana. Had the two schools not been able to find a date to reschedule, the Hawkeyes would have lost a home game.
“You know, it wasn’t easy getting it done, but we certainly are glad that we get to play them at home as well,” Bluder said.
If anything, Bluder said, it will be easy to prepare for the second game.
“You only have one game to watch and that’s (Saturday’s) game,” Bluder said. “You’d be watching that anyway. It actually makes it much simpler than watching the five or six games that we would traditionally watch before an opponent only having 24 hours (to prepare). They have to travel during that time, we have to travel during that time. I just don’t see it as an advantage or disadvantage for either team. It’s not that big a deal.”
“I think we obviously know what’s in front of us,” guard Caitlin Clark said. “We’re going to be playing the same team twice and there’s not much time in between to change who you are and change what you’re doing. Obviously, there’s some tweaks and things that we’re going to make depending on how the game goes and how they’re going to do the same for how the game goes for them.
“We’re just focused on Saturday’s game and getting the win there. And then we’ll come back on Sunday, watch film, reassess, change things that need to be changed and continue to do what we did well, and then (play) on our home floor. So yeah, I think we know what’s in front of us.”
There is also the matter of the Big Ten standings. The Hawkeyes are 1 ½ games behind co-leaders Indiana and Maryland, so catching them is a long shot.
Iowa is, though, only a ½-game out of fourth place, and with the top four teams getting a double bye in the Big Ten tournament, there is plenty to play for in this final stretch.
The Hawkeyes could get forward McKenna Warnock back. Warnock hasn’t played since suffering a wrist injury in the January 31 home loss to Ohio State. She averages 11.7 points and 7.2 rebounds, and Iowa has missed her shooting and rebounding since she went out.
“It’s her physical nature that really helps us,” Bluder said. “McKenna can get down on that block and battle with people or she can be on the perimeter. She just gives us the height and the physical presence that we really need.”
“We’re going to love having her back, whenever that is,” Clark said. “I don’t think she gets the credit she deserves and she’s really an ‘X’ factor for us overall.”
Photo: Iowa coach Lisa Bluder (left) and guard Caitlin Clark talked on Friday about the upcoming back-to-back games against Indiana. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)