IOWA CITY — Nobody enjoyed turning the page on the calendar from January to February more than Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder.
After coping with injuries and a short bench to a grueling grind of road games in the first calendar month of the new year, the Hawkeyes welcome the chance to put together a strong stretch run.
The Hawkeyes carried a 14-1 record into January and exited at 16-6.
"January was a pretty tough month for us," Bluder said. "We’re glad to have it in the rearview mirror."
Iowa began February last weekend with a pair of wins, moving beyond that 2-5 stretch with an overtime victory at Michigan State and a win Sunday over Minnesota that avenged a road loss two weeks earlier.
Bluder, whose team hosts Penn State at 7 p.m. today, hopes wins over the Spartans and Golden Gophers are the start of a stretch run that will propel the Hawkeyes into the NCAA tourney field after a two-year absence.
The wins were Iowa’s first in consecutive games since opening the Big Ten season with wins over Wisconsin and Michigan.
"Every game, every win, from here on out takes on an added significance for us, not only for the Big Ten but for the NCAA tourney," Bluder said.
At 18-6 on the season and 6-5 in the Big Ten, Iowa currently is 8-3 against teams that made the NCAA field a year ago.
The Hawkeyes’ RPI currently sits at 22 with five games remaining in the regular season.
"We’ve done a lot of good things, but we need to keep building on what we’ve done so far. We need to keep winning games," Hawkeye post player Megan Gustafson said. "We still have some work to do."
After playing five of its first seven conference games away from Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the schedule turns in Iowa’s favor during the final weeks of the regular season.
Iowa plays three of its final five games at home, and none of its remaining opponents are in the top six in the Big Ten standings. Only one, Rutgers, has a winning league record, and it shares the Hawkeyes’ 6-5 mark.
Bluder believes the way things are set up, the Hawkeyes could be positioned to make a strong late-season run.
"I don’t know why not if we keep coming out and playing the way we did (against Minnesota)," Bluder said. "We played, played aggressive, and if we keep doing that, there is no reason why we can’t put together a big run."