As the end of the semester pressure begins to heat up, so does the No. 16 Iowa women’s basketball season.
Over the course of the next two and a half weeks, Iowa will play four games, three of them against in-state rivals.
At 7 p.m. today, the Hawkeyes will play host to their biggest in-state rival, Iowa State, and Iowa is itching to take the court.
“This week is special for everyone who goes to this university,” forward Megan Gustafson said. “It’s a really big rivalry. We respect their program; they’re a really good team, but at the same time, we want to beat them.”
The Cyclones are certainly a talented team — they boast a 6-1 record, including a 23-point victory over then-No. 24 Miami.
Unlike Iowa, Iowa State doesn’t rely on one or two women to score, it gets points from everyone. Four Cyclones average in double figures, and three others contribute an average of 5 on a nightly basis.
While scoring is a group effort for the Cyclones, they are led by senior guard Bridget Carleton, who has finished games in double figures in 38-straight contests.
She averages 17.1 points per game, 10.1 rebounds, and 4.6 assists. Limiting the number of times Carleton touches the ball will be a top priority for the Hawkeyes.
“Keeping the ball out of her hands is important,” head coach Lisa Bluder said. “Once she gets the ball in her hands, she’s pretty darn effective. Almost everything runs through her, so if we can keep the ball out of her hands, that disrupts things.”
However, her most impressive statistic is her 2.3 blocks per game, which ranks 22nd in the nation. She is the only guard in the top 100 in blocked shots per game.
While Carleton and the Cyclones do well on the offensive end, their identity this season has been how well they can defend.
They rank 16th nationally in both field-goal percentage allowed (33.1 percent), and blocked shots (5.6 per game).
The tenacious Cyclone defense will be an opportunity for the Hawkeyes, who are ranked seventh in the nation in scoring offense.
Other than a classic good offense versus good defense matchup, Wednesday’s game is also a continuation of a classic rivalry series. The two teams have met at least once a year for the past 44. Iowa will try to increase its 26-22 advantage in the series.
On Iowa’s side will be home-court advantage, which has worked really well for Iowa in the past against Iowa State. The Hawkeyes have a five-game winning streak over the Cyclones in Carver-Hawkeye.
“Comfort [is an advantage],” Bluder said. “You’re comfortable with your surroundings, you get to sleep in your own bed. You have your fans cheering you on instead of trying to disrupt you.”
No matter the venue or the circumstances surrounding the game, this is a big matchup.
“It’s such a fun game that we look forward to every year,” forward Hannah Stewart said. “We’re as motivated as ever to give our all during that game and hopefully come out with a win.”
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