IOWA CITY — Embracing a challenge has never been a problem for the Iowa women’s basketball team.
"It’s why you play the game, the chance to test yourself against the best and see where you stand," guard Makenzie Meyer said. "We look forward to taking on the top teams. Going to Notre Dame, that’s something we’ve all been looking forward to since we found out it was happening."
The 14th-ranked Hawkeyes get that chance today, visiting top-rated defending national champion Notre Dame in a 6 p.m. game that is part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Returning four starters from last season’s title-winning team, the Fighting Irish are off to a 6-0 start and have already earned wins over ninth-rated Oregon State and 15th-ranked DePaul.
Senior guard Arike Ogunbowale leads four double-digit scorers in the Notre Dame lineup at 24.5 points per game.
Coach Muffet McGraw’s team is also getting 18.4 points per game from senior forward Jessica Shepard, 18.3 points from junior guard Jackie Young and 14 points from senior forward Brianna Turner.
Iowa, led by Megan Gustafson’s average of 23.2 points and 12.6 rebounds per game, will be attempting to bounce back from its first loss in five games this season.
"We’re getting ready for a big opponent, but there are a lot of reasons for us to want to play well," guard Tania Davis said, referencing the Hawkeyes’ 71-67 loss to Florida State in the finals of the Junkanoo Jam.
"We want to show that we’re a lot better than we played against Florida State, and we’ll get the chance to do that against a great opponent on the road."
The Fighting Irish host second-ranked Connecticut on Sunday, but Iowa coach Lisa Bluder expects the Hawkeyes to get the best Notre Dame has to offer.
"This group just likes a challenge," Bluder said. "They like to get ready for every opponent, whether it’s the number one team in the country, Florida State, Western Kentucky or Iowa State, they like a challenge."
Iowa will continue to be without starting guard Kathleen Doyle this week as she continues to work her way back from broken bones in her non-shooting hand.
"So, it’s a tough scenario," Bluder said.
That won’t change the Hawkeyes objectives.
Throughout the opening weeks of the season, Iowa’s focus has remained on itself and being the best version of the Hawkeyes that Iowa can be.
"We’re not worrying about the scoreboard or worrying about the opponent," Bluder said. "We’re concentrating on being the best we can be, and if we accomplish that, the rest will take care of itself no matter who the opponent is on a given night."
In this instance, the opponent just happens to be the top-rated team in the nation.
Notre Dame is also the most recent top-rated team Iowa has faced. The Fighting Irish were rated No. 1 when they won a 73-58 game at Iowa on Nov. 30, 2016, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Iowa’s last victory over a top-ranked team came in 1987 when the Hawkeyes beat No. 1 Texas 75-65 at the Orange Bowl Classic in Miami.
As they prepare for today’s match-up at Purcell Pavilion, the Hawkeyes are anxious to take on that challenge again.
"Every one of us has had this game circled for a long time," Gustafson said. "We’re super excited to have this opportunity and see what we can do with it."