The past three years, Iowa has started the season 9-7, 8-7 and 8-10, and went on to finish first, second and third in the Big Ten standings.
This winter, No. 14 Iowa is 12-1 and set to open Big Ten play Thursday as one of the favorites to contend for the league title.
“We’ve never been in the limelight,” senior Kachine Alexander said. “No one has paid that much attention to us.
“This year we’ve had a number in front of our name the whole season, and its kept growing. We’re going to get everyone’s best shot.”
As conference play begins, it seems like eight teams are chasing three. No. 13 Ohio State is the favorite, going for its seventh straight Big Ten title. Michigan State is ranked No. 15.
“I think last year was one of those that snuck up on people,” sophomore Hannah Draxten said. “This year we definitely have a target on our backs. We have to bring our ‘A’ game.”
Iowa has to keep its focus as well. The Big Ten is returning to a 16-game conference season after three years at 18 games, so every Big Ten game becomes more important.
“I think if you want to be the top, there’s less room for error; you only have 16 games,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said.
Bluder was in favor of the change and thinks it may get more league teams invited to the NCAA Tournament.
The Hawkeyes weren’t given any favors with the schedule. They play four Big Ten teams just once, and that includes trips to Northwestern and to Purdue, and home games against Michigan and Wisconsin.
Iowa has lost 10 straight in West Lafayette, Ind. The Wildcats dropped Iowa 72-66 in Evanston, Ill., last winter, breaking a 17-game Hawkeye winning streak in the series.
“I just think the Big Ten is so competitive this year,” junior Kamille Wahlin said. “Any team can beat anyone any given night. With that target, it’s going to make it harder to beat teams.
“We’re still a team that can’t make too many mistakes if we want to win the title.”
It will be an important first month. Iowa will have both games against Ohio State and Michigan State in the books by Jan. 27.
Bluder wouldn’t take bets on how many wins it would take to win the Big Ten this season.
“The safe bet is 16,” Bluder said. “I think just looking at who we are playing this year, you know, a safe scenario would be 12 or 13. I think it’s going to take that to win it.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball