By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — With two straight wins and three in its last four outings, the University of Iowa women’s basketball team is confident heading into Thursday’s showdown against Penn State on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The Hawkeyes (18-6 overall, 6-5 Big Ten) were also confident during a three-game losing stretch late in January.
“We reminded them of the good things they were doing,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said Wednesday during a news conference in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “After (losses), we would show them highlights of things they were doing well. We didn’t just dwell on things we needed to improve on, but we wanted to dwell on things we were doing well so we would keep doing those things.”
Soon, the consecutive string of losses to Purdue, Nebraska, and Minnesota turned into a 103-89 win over No. 12 Ohio State. And back-to-back wins over Michigan State and Minnesota to open the month of February.
“We learned a lot about ourselves,” said Bluder, who reminded the Hawkeyes to make it a successful month when turning the calendar to February. “The team is playing with a good feeling right now. (Penn State) is going to be tough, but I like the way we feel about ourselves going into it.”
There haven’t been many thorns in Iowa’s side the past few seasons, but Penn State is one of them. The Nittany Lions have won eight of the last 10 meetings and three in a row. The three most recent setbacks to Penn State have all been by 13 points.
“They have always brought their A game and (Thursday) will be no different,” Iowa junior center Megan Gustafson said. “Every team will give us its best shot, so we need to be consistent and keep that energy and focus the whole time.”
Penn State (14-10, 5-6) has won four of its last six games. The Nittany Lions defeated Michigan State, 74-59, on Feb. 4. Junior guard Teniya Page averages 17.8 points per game, junior guard Amari Carter averages 14.7, and sophomore guard Jaida Travascio-Green averages 12.3. Penn State’s top three scorers combine to average more than five 3-point field goals per game.
“They have good guards, good shooters, so we will have to be ready to defend from the 3-point line,” Gustafson said.
Thursday’s home game is one of five left in the regular season for the Hawkeyes. That fact hit Bluder the other day while corresponding with recruits.
“That’s not very many. It’s kind of crunch time,” she said.
So far in crunch time, the confident Hawkeyes have been on a winning roll. That pleases Bluder as the postseason nears.
“I would rather have the momentum at the end of the year by far,” she said. “Going into postseason, you want to be playing your best.”
The Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions tip off at 7 p.m. (CT). It will be National Girls and Women in Sports Day.
“We tell them every game is important, not only for Big Ten standings, but for our resume for the (NCAA) selection committee,” Bluder said. “We don’t dwell on it, but we bring it to their attention so they know about it.”