The challenge for the Iowa women’s basketball team tonight is to avoid thinking too much about the elephant in the room.
Seventh-ranked Big Ten leader Maryland, currently one game in front of the 14th-ranked Hawkeyes in the league race, visits Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, but thoughts about that marquee matchup must wait.
Illinois, which ended a nine-game losing streak Sunday with a win over the Wisconsin team it currently shares the Big Ten basement with, visits Iowa at 7 p.m. today.
"Our full focus is on Illinois, but our next game against Maryland will be fun, too," center Megan Gustafson said Wednesday.
However, coach Lisa Bluder said Terrapins talk must wait until after the Hawkeyes deal with a Fighting Illini team they beat 94-75 last month at the State Farm Center.
"We can’t get ahead of ourselves," Bluder said.
With only three home games remaining on Iowa’s regular-season schedule, adding to the team’s 12-0 record at Carver-Hawkeye Arena this season will be important for the Hawkeyes.
"This is a big week for us with two home games," Bluder said. "That feels really good. We’ve had three convincing wins in a row with two on the road. I feel like our team is clicking now."
Guard Kathleen Doyle said following Sunday’s 78-52 win at Ohio State that the Hawkeyes (19-5, 10-3 Big Ten) need to maintain the same type of edge they have shown in recent wins over Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State.
"We have stay locked in to who we are playing," Doyle said. "It doesn’t matter where we are or where the other team is in the standings, we have to be locked in and do our job."
Illinois (10-14, 2-11) is built around senior Alex Wittinger and junior Brandi Beasley, who combined for 40 of the Illini’s 78 points Sunday in a 10-point victory over the Badgers. Junior Courtney Joens, an Iowa City native, averages five points per game as a starting guard for Illinois.
"We can’t overlook anybody," Bluder said. "If we want Sunday to matter, we have to be ready for Illinois. It’s an important week for us, and the hope is to keep it rolling."
Gustafson is nearing another milestone as the Hawkeyes prepare for their weekend home games.
Already the school’s career scoring leader in the sport, male or female, she enters tonight’s game against the Fighting Illini 42 points away from reaching 2,500 for her career.