IOWA CITY — At 1-2 in the Big Ten, this week carries plenty of significance for the Iowa women’s basketball team.
The Hawkeyes host a pair of tests, looking to avenge a 70-65 loss at Illinois in a 7 p.m. game today before third-rated Maryland visits Carver-Hawkeye Arena at 3 p.m. Saturday.
“We need to get things going and that starts this week,’’ sophomore center Megan Gustafson said. “These are two big games at home for us.’’
Iowa, 10-5 on the season, is coming off of a bye in its schedule and the Hawkeyes used the extra time to regain a focus on fundamentals.
“We spent a lot of time working on playing with energy, cutting down turnovers and improving our defensive transition,’’ Gustafson said. “Those are three things we need to do better and we’ve spent a lot of time on them in practice.’’
Illinois is 7-9 on the season and its 2-1 Big Ten record includes a 78-41 win over Rutgers on Saturday and growing success since switching primarily to a zone defense shortly before the start of conference play.
Maryland joins Ohio State as the only unbeaten teams in Big Ten play, with the only blemish on a 15-1 record an 87-81 loss to Connecticut in late December.
“We need to take care of business on our home court,’’ guard Tania Davis said. “Illinois, we’re looking for redemption after losing over there in a game we felt we should have won, and Maryland, they’re a top-five team. It’s going to be a tough week, but we’re capable.’’
That’s what coach Lisa Bluder wants her team to understand.
The Hawkeyes have shot just 22.1 percent from 3-point range since the start of the Big Ten season, among areas Iowa is working to grow.
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“We’re getting good looks at threes and we’re taking good threes,’’ Bluder said. “That stretch against UNI and Iowa State, we were putting them down. We’ve got to get that mindset back.’’
With no game on the schedule, Bluder did give her team the weekend off after intense practices last Thursday and Friday.
“We went hard for a couple of days, then took some time to catch our breath and recharge a bit for this week,’’ Bluder said. “We’re home and we need to take advantage of that. We need to be at our best.’’
Gustafson senses that as well.
“We have two tough opponents coming in here this week and it starts with being ready for Illinois,’’ she said. “They got us the first time. We need to be ready to go for them first, and then we can start to think about Maryland.’’