IOWA CITY – There is a bigger deal than the 6-foot-9 recruit the Iowa women’s basketball program hosted on Thursday.
Holding serve at home is every bit as important to the Hawkeyes as they work deeper into an already complicated Big Ten race.
Only two teams – Indiana and Rutgers – remain unbeaten in conference play through the first three dates of Big Ten competition.
Both are 2-0 are sit one-half game in front of a logjam of four teams that are off to 2-1 starts in a league which has nine teams currently with 10 or more wins on their records.
Iowa is among those teams, carrying a 10-3 overall record and 1-1 Big Ten start into a 7 p.m. game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena against Wisconsin, which sits at 10-5 and is 1-2 in the conference.
“Home games are so critical,’’ Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “The Big Ten has been so crazy. It’s early and there have been a lot of upsets already. You have to fight for every win you can get at home and then hope to find a way to pick off a few on the road, but it starts with protecting the home court.’’
Averaging 83.1 points per game, the Hawkeyes face a contrast in styles against the Badgers, who are holding opponents to 56 points per game and have a 76-69 win over a solid Purdue team on their record.
The contrast extends to interior play, where Iowa all-American Megan Gustafson has averaged 22.7 points and 14 rebounds against her home state school.
The senior from Port Wing, Wisconsin will join the Hawkeyes in facing a Wisconsin team which leads the nation with 703 rebounds through 15 games, an average of 46.9 per game, and ranks seventh with 85 blocked shots.
Michigan State and Nebraska have challenged Gustafson with a more physical approach defensively, attempting to wear her down physically.
“I know that I have a target on my back,’’ Gustafson said.
She’s dealing with that as the Hawkeyes deal with continue to search for future talent.
That included welcoming Jelena Mitrovic, a 6-9 native of Serbia to campus for Thursday’s win over Nebraska.
Mitrovic averaged 11.7 points and 11.3 rebounds in seven game for Serbia at the 2018 FIBA U18 Women’s European Championship.
A 2019 recruit, Mitrovic has trimmed her list of potential college programs to Arizona State, Iowa, Oregon State and Rutgers.