Fresh off a second-half comeback victory over No. 23 Minnesota, the No. 22 Iowa women’s basketball squad will face Michigan tonight in Carver-Hawkeye.
Michigan (11-6, 2-3 Big Ten) seeks to move to .500 in Big Ten play with a win over Iowa (12-4, 3-2 Big Ten). The Hawkeyes will defend a home record of 8-0.
The Hawkeyes love to play on their home court. But head coach Lisa Bluder has full faith in her team regardless of the venue.
“Our players do a really good job of focusing, whether they’re playing on the road or at home,” she said.
If the Wolverines have proven anything, it’s that they can score the ball in gritty ways. Center Hallie Thome, who will battle Iowa center Megan Gustafson down low, leads the team with 13.6 points per game.
Freshman Naz Hillmon has taken the Big Ten by storm, causing problems for opponents in the paint. The forward has tallied 11.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per contest in her first season.
The Wolverines average 11.1 more rebounds per contest than opponents this season on the shoulders of Hillmon and Thome.
“They’ve got a really good post presence inside with Hallie Thome, so we know we’ve got to be ready for that,” Gustafson said. “We’re going to be ready for them, though.”
Needless to say, the matchups in the paint will be tightly contested. It will be a welcome challenge for Gustafson and Company. The Hawkeyes feel confident in the paint after outscoring Minnesota, 52-34, down low on Monday night.
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Michigan will catch Iowa during a special stretch. The Hawkeyes have won three of their last four contests and are fresh off a stellar second-half comeback over Minnesota.
Several Hawkeyes have heated up, and they’re ready to let the conference know about it.
“We’re so confident in each other and our team, and we know what we’re capable of,” guard Kathleen Doyle said. “We do our best to capture [great moments] and continue on. We’re very mentally tough when we’re struggling.”
Senior Tania Davis had a breakout game against the Gophers, putting up 21 points and going 8-for-10 from the field.
Davis has passed the ball extremely well all season, and Iowa leads the conference in assists per game with 22.1. Having her back after an injury-shortened junior season has been huge for the Hawkeyes.
Of course, the majority of Michigan’s preparation and attention will be on slowing down Gustafson and forward Hannah Stewart.
Gustafson is under intense pressure, especially because she is in the national spotlight and serves as the target of defensive scouting. She leads the nation in points per game (26.4) and field-goal percentage (.702) and ranks fourth in rebounds per game (12.9).
Michigan has solid play in the paint, but each time Iowa’s bigs have faced formidable opponents down low this season, they have met the challenge.
If Michigan has any shot of wrecking Iowa’s undefeated home record, it must find a way to put a halt to the Gustafson-Stewart duo.