By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It’s the middle of February and words and phrases like huge, crunch time, and control our own destiny inundate the vocabulary of University of Iowa women’s basketball players and coaches.
With a record of 15-10 overall, 6-6 in the Big Ten Conference, the Hawkeyes know they need a strong finish in their final four regular season games and then have a productive league tournament to return to the NCAA Tournament.
“We do completely control our own destiny with these last four games,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said Wednesday during a news conference in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “These games differentiate whether we finish in the top or bottom half of the conference.”
The Hawkeyes host Northwestern (17-8, 6-6) on Thursday with a 7 p.m. (CT) tip. The Wildcats have played three games in the last eight days and lost all three. That recent skid doesn’t deceive Bluder, who notes that Northwestern could start an all-senior lineup.
“They have one of the most experienced teams in the conference,” Bluder said. “When you think of how young we are and then you look at five seniors and the talent they have — that’s what has my attention right now.”
Iowa senior Ally Disterhoft should demand the Wildcats’ attention. In games against Michigan State and Ohio State last week, Disterhoft averaged 23.5 points and 9.5 rebounds. She shot 56 percent from the field, 62.5 percent from 3-point, and 66.7 percent from the free throw line.
“I’m starting to realize my opportunities to wear an Iowa jersey are coming to a close. I don’t have a lot of games left,” Disterhoft said. “I’m trying to make the most out of the time I have left on the floor and giving it my all. I don’t want to walk away with any regrets, so I’m going to continue to be aggressive and do whatever the team needs me to do to win.”
Sophomore center Megan Gustafson said that after impressive showings on the road at Maryland and Ohio State, the Hawkeyes know they can play with any team in the country. In the last six games, Gustafson has four double-doubles and is averaging 18.7 points and 9.7 rebounds a game.
“We have to treat each game as if that is going to decide if we’re going to be in the NCAA Tournament or not,” Gustafson said. “Taking it game-by-game and knowing how important each game is will help us a lot.”
For the fourth consecutive game, Iowa will be playing an opponent for the only time in the regular season. The Hawkeyes won at Northwestern last season (79-64) and have won six in a row in the series.
Thursday will be the annual Pink Game for the Hawkeyes. All fans are encouraged to wear pink in support of breast cancer awareness.
“It’s a meaningful day for a lot of reasons,” Bluder said. “There is always a little extra emotion with our pink game because of what it stands for. We try to make it real for (our players). I want to educate them and help them understand and take control of their own health.”