The hunters have suddenly become the hunted.
Iowa (16-5, 5-2 Big Ten) earned its way into the Top 25 this week, mostly on a 6-0 record against Top 25 teams.
Now the 24th-ranked Hawkeyes are the big shot trying to defend their ranking … first at upstart Illinois (11-8, 4-3) Thursday and then Sunday at home against Northwestern (10-10, 2-5).
“Being ranked kind of puts that target on your back,” Iowa senior Jaime Printy said. “But at the same time, we feel like, a lot of us, like we deserved to be ranked a while ago.
“We got to keep coming ready. Everyone is realizing how good we are this year and what we can do.”
Iowa came into this week tied for third in the Big Ten.
“We have to understand that being ranked in the Top 25 now carries some added pressure that we’re going to have to withstand,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said.
The Illini have wins over three Top 25 teams already in the first season under coach Matt Bollant. They also have won as many games (11) as they did the previous season.
A big reason why is the Illini defense. Illinois is forcing 25.4 turnovers in the Big Ten and leads the conference with 15.3 steals per game.
“They are an aggressive team,” Bluder said. “You have to keep your composure. I think Sam (Logic) is going to be big for us in that, just because she did such a great job in the Michigan game keeping her composure, and the rest of the team fed off that.
“And Illinois just banks on the fact that you’re going to panic in their traps and in their pressure defense.”
Logic has proven herself to be one of the top point guards in the country, dishing out 149 assists over 21 games. She also has a team-high 95 turnovers. As a team, Iowa averages 16.0 turnovers per game.
“You have to focus,” Logic said. “Illinois wants to get up and down, get fast breaks off turnovers, so … we have to do a really good job of being composed, focused on getting good shots.”
Illinois boasts five starters who average 7.9 point per game or more, led by 5-foot-11 senior guard Adrienne Godbold (18.9) and 6-foot-2 power forward Karisma Penn (18.7).
Penn, a preseason all-Big Ten pick, also averages 10.4 rebounds per game.
Illinois is coming off a 91-85 win at Minnesota on Monday. The Illini had 11 3-pointers in that game, including five by Amber Moore and three by Taylor Tuck off the bench.
Bluder knows that despite its record, Illinois is a dangerous team.
“This is a team that is, I think, going to make some real big damage in the Big Ten Conference,” Bluder said. “They’ve already got four road wins in the Big Ten.
“They took Purdue to overtime, … and Michigan State only won that game by four points against Illinois. So Illinois is knocking on everyone’s door right now.”
Assembly Hall has been a good spot for Iowa, having won seven in a row in Champaign, Ill. And Iowa has won 15 of the last 16 against Illinois.
“We want to improve in the rankings,” Iowa senior Morgan Johnson said. “We’re 24; we don’t want to be 24 any more next week. Get these wins to move ahead, that kind of mentality is going to keep us good.
“We go in knowing that these are great teams, too, and they cannot be overlooked. We approach practice the same way we do for Top 25 teams. We go in with the mentality that every game and every possession is important.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball