Earlier this basketball season, a prominent member to the Iowa media called Iowa’s women’s basketball team special after the Hawkeyes pounded instate rival Iowa State by more than 20 points.
Lately, the Hawkeye ladies are being described with another word that starts with “S.” And that word is struggling.
Iowa dropped two straight games last week to fall out of the college basketball top 25. The Hawks hope to change their recent trend against rival Minnesota when things tip off at 8 p.m. Thursday at Carver Hawkeye Arena.
“Obviously, we hope to get back on the winning track this week,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “I think we have a chance to do that against Minnesota, although they are much improved.”
The Gophers began Big Ten Conference play 0-7 but have since won three straight games. They are 11-12 overall this season, while Iowa is 17-7 overall and 5-6 in league play.
“They are kind of coming in with some momentum, and we really don’t have any of that right now,” Bluder said. “I do hope that can be changed with this game coming up. The Iowa-Minnesota game is always an incredible rivalry. It is emotional for both teams. A lot of our players are from Minnesota, so it is very emotional for them and very meaningful.”
Four players on Iowa’s roster hail from the state of Minnesota, including senior starter Kachine Alexander and junior starter Kamille Wahlin. Hannah Draxten and Theairra Taylor are the other two.
On the flip side, the Gophers now feature an Iowan in the starting lineup in former Ames prep Kionna Kellogg. Kellogg was a high school teammate of Iowa guard Trisha Nesbitt.
“That is another interesting angle, amd she is playing well for them.” Bluder said of Kellogg. “When we played them the first time around, she was not starting.”
The Hawks will definitely have to defend Kellogg this time around. The Ames native is only averaging just less than three points and just more than three rebounds per game, but she has played well in two of her last three games. She had eight points and 13 rebounds in the Gophers’ win over Michigan and eight points and 15 rebounds in the win over Northwestern.
“Every game is a must-win for us,” Bluder said. “You want to win every single game. I don’t like those cliches I guess but it is true. I really don’t feel like we have been consistent and that bothers me a bit. The lack of consistency concerns me the most.”
One player who has been the model of consistency in her career is Alexander, who enters the game averaging 14 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. She is coming off another double-double against Penn State, and she also became the first Hawkeye and fifth player in Big Ten Conference history to surpass 1,000 points, 800 rebounds and 300 assists for a career.
“She is a little bit sore, but nothing is damaged,” Bluder said in response to Alexander being injured late last game. “I didn’t really notice it in the game. It is a foot injury, but the doctor said it was just a tendon that got twisted in there.”
While Iowa will need Alexander to be at her best, if she is not, sophomore Jaime Printy, Wahlin and junior Morgan Johnson will have to step up their play.
Printy leads the team in scoring at 15.6 points per game but also averages 4.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. Wahlin is averaging around 12 points per game, while Johnson is scoring 11 points and pulling down seven rebounds per contest.
Iowa leads the series with Minnesota 43-22 and has won six of the past eight games. The Hawks also are 23-7 in the last 30 gaes played at Carver Hawkeye Arena.
“It is incredibly important to get a higher seed for the tournament,” Bluder said. “We have had some really tough seeds the past few years, but we are happy to be in the tournament. However, we know these last few games are important because we would like to get a better seed this season.”
Thursday night’s game will be Kelsey Cermak Bobblehead Night. Cermak is one of Iowa’s two seniors — the other being Alexander — on the roster this season. She is a Norwalk native. The first 500 fans to the game will receive the Cermak Bobblehead. Also, hot dogs will be sold for only $1 all night.