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Hawkeye women face gauntlet in next four gamees

Hawkeye women face gauntlet in next four gamees

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Iowa Nebraska Basketball

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark (22) drives to the basket in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Nebraska’s MiCole Cayton (5) on Feb. 11 in Lincoln, Neb.

Over the next nine days, the Iowa women’s basketball team will get a taste of the best the Big Ten has to offer.

Three of the Hawkeyes’ four opponents in that timespan are ranked in the top-12 nationally and how Iowa handles things off the court will be as significant as how it deals with it all on the court.

“It’s going to be basketball, basketball, basketball, moving from one game to the next, and we have to be smart about it,’’ Iowa guard Tomi Taiwo said Monday.

After preparing for today’s noon game at eighth-ranked Maryland last Friday and Saturday, coach Lisa Bluder gave her team Sunday off and recommended the Hawkeyes spend most of the day off of their feet.

“There’s no way I could manage their legs for three games in six days, plus two road games, so there’s a lot of travel in there as well,’’ Bluder said.

Taiwo said she spent plenty of time Sunday perched on a couch watching game tape to prepare for a Maryland team that features all five starters averaging in double figures.

Iowa did spend time on the court Monday in Iowa City before leaving to the face the Big Ten-leading Terrapins in a match-up featuring the conference’s two most productive offenses.

Maryland has averaged 92.4 points per game on its way to a 16-2 start while Iowa averages 87.9 points.

Once Tuesday’s game is over, the Hawkeyes will turn their attention to Thursday’s 3:30 p.m. home game 12th-ranked Michigan and a match-up that features the league’s top two scorers.

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark leads the Big Ten with a scoring average of 26.9 points per game, one more point than the Wolverines’ Naz Hillmon has averaged to help Michigan to a 13-2 record.

Road games at Wisconsin on Sunday and on March 3 at 11th-ranked Indiana follow as Iowa works toward the end of its regular-season schedule and a game against Nebraska now scheduled for March 6.

“We’ll do everything we can to keep the confidence level high, keep the energy high and keep us going through this stretch,’’ Bluder said.

She said preparation will be as much mental as it is physical, filled with reminders of work put in as long ago as last summer on how to counter certain scenarios that may fit what the next opponent features.

Bluder said one thing makes the turnaround from Maryland to Michigan particularly tricky.

“This is the only time we’re playing Michigan this season, so it’s a new preparation,’’ Bluder said. “If it were Indiana or Nebraska, teams we’ve played, it would be more of a refresher.’’

But for now, Iowa has Maryland on its mind.

“You want to be ready and you have to be smart with your body,’’ Clark said, adding, “Because more than anything this is a great opportunity for us.’’

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