Feb. 7, 2014
By CHRIS BREWER
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Sometimes a win is more than just a win, and the University of Iowa women's basketball team believes that to be the case following Thursday's 73-70 upset at No. 9 Penn State.
Yes, the victory improved Iowa's record to 6-4 in the conference, two games within Big Ten leading Michigan State and Penn State, but it also restored confidence, and it may have lit a postseason fuse.
"We learned a lot about ourselves in that game," said freshman Ally Disterhoft, who matched her career high with 24 points against the Nittany Lions. "We regained some confidence that we maybe had lost after that Nebraska game. We're confident in ourselves, we believe in each other and we're going to carry that into these next couple of games."
The next couple of games include back-to-back home contests against Northwestern and Illinois. Iowa hosts the Wildcats on Monday, Feb. 10 at 6 p.m. (CT). Illinois visits Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Feb. 13. After that, the Hawkeyes travel to Purdue to play the Boilermakers on Feb. 16.
UI head coach Lisa Bluder calls it a challenging stretch.
"It is obviously a big week for us; a tough week for us. Three games in a short amount of time is going to require a lot of concentration," said Bluder. "Our players need to be smart -- learning from the scouting report, from the film, the off-the-floor time, getting your legs rest."
The next three games will also influence the Big Ten pecking order. Iowa gets only one regular season shot at Northwestern and Purdue this year, which leaves little room for error against teams separated by just two games in the standings.
"This is a really big week. We're going for the next separation of the top four teams," said Bluder. "The top four get the bye (in the conference tournament). That's important. Getting that first round bye is really important. This week, if we do well, could really put us in that category."
Bluder said she is thankful the first two games of the upcoming stretch are at home, even if the Hawkeyes are 4-1 in conference games outside of Iowa City, and just 2-3 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
"We've played so well on the road in the Big Ten season," said Bluder. "It's kind of strange that we are playing so well on the road and not really playing our best games at home. We have to reverse that trend this week."
Junior Bethany Doolittle says Thursday's win over Penn State may be what Iowa needs to break through.
"That (Penn State win) gave us a lot of confidence for the next few games," said Doolittle. "It shows other teams in the conference what we're made of and what we can do. Now we have to take that back here to Carver. We have to continue that at home."
Bluder looks no further than the tail of the season when it comes to finding reasons to win at home.
"We need to start playing well at home because we're hosting the (NCAA) tournament," said Bluder, who had guided Iowa to six straight NCAA appearances. "We need to take care of home court if we want to be in the top half of this conference.
"We don't want to be in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten and make the NCAA tournament. Let's try to set ourselves up for more success in the NCAA tournament."