The Iowa women’s basketball team is 6-0 against opponents ranked in the top 25 this season.
Unfortunately, the Hawkeyes’ next foe is not ranked.
Iowa will take a national ranking to the floor for the first time this season when they take on rival Illinois at Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill. Tonight’s game is set to tip off at 7 p.m.
“Playing at Illinois this week is going to be one tough basketball game,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. “They are an aggressive team. You have to keep your composure.”
The Hawkeyes are ranked in the Associated Press poll (No. 24) for the first time since Feb. 28, 2011, and ranked in the USA Today Sports Coaches poll (No. 25) for the first time since Jan. 31, 2011.
“We’ve got a target on our back now getting into the top 25,” Bluder said. “And we like to play against top 25 teams, so we have to understand that being ranked in the top 25 now carries some added pressure that we’re going to have to withstand.”
If they want to stay ranked, the Hawkeyes will have to beat the Fighting Illini for the ninth straight time. Iowa also has won seven straight in Champaign.
“Illinois is knocking on everyone’s door right now,” Bluder said. “I expect it’s going to be an intense game the whole time there because that’s the way that they play.”
“But in saying that, our team feels good about playing at Illinois. We’ve won seven straight now at Illinois. We’ve done very well in Champaign, and any time you feel good about a place, I think that helps your psyche going in there.”
Illinois, on the other hand, is better on the road than at home during Big Ten play this year. The Fighting Illini enter the game 11-8 overall and 4-3 in Big Ten action. All four wins in league play have come on the road, while all three losses were at home.
Two of the home losses came by one point to nationally ranked Purdue in overtime and by four points to Michigan State.
“But I think, again, it’s who you’re playing,” Bluder said. “Purdue is tough. Michigan State is a very good basketball team. So they lost those two games very close margins. Those could have gone either way. So I think that it’s really the competition more than a stigma of I’m playing better on the road.”
The Hawkeyes have been on a bit of a roll lately, winning at then No. 23 Michigan on Sunday. That victory, along with home wins over then No. 12 Purdue and Wisconsin, pushed Iowa into the national rankings this week.
“I’m hoping what this does is bring them confidence because they’ve worked hard for this and they deserve it,” Bluder said of the national ranking. “But we also know we’re only as good as that next game and winning that next game.”
A big reason for the emergence of late was due in large part to senior guard Jaime Printy, who appears to be close to 100 percent back from the torn ACL she suffered last year. Printy was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Tuesday after averaging 21.5 points in two wins last week. She scored 29 against Wisconsin, including 14 straight, and went on her own personal 12-0 run to secure the win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
If it is not Printy doing it from outside, it has been senior Morgan Johnson doing it from the inside. Johnson, who is closing in on the all-time record for most career starts at Iowa, is averaging nearly 16 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per contest.
Sophomore Sam Logic also leads the Big Ten and is sixth in the country with a 7.1 assists per game average and also scores nearly nine points and grabs better than six boards per game.
“I think Sam’s going to be big for us (against Illinois), just because she did such a great job in the Michigan game keeping her composure, and the rest of the team fed off that,” Bluder said. “And Illinois just banks on the fact that you’re going to panic in their traps and in their pressure defense.”
The other two starters – Theiarra Taylor and Bethany Doolittle – are averaging eight points per game. Doolittle is coming off her best week as a Hawkeye with back-to-back double-figure outputs. She put in a career-high 19 points in the win over Michigan on Sunday.
Bluder knew Doolittle had it in her. The sophomore center just had to adjust her role and look to be more aggressive on offense.
“I just thought there was more than she was giving us,” Bluder said of her confidence in the 6-foot-4 sophomore. “We wanted her to be part of that scoring. And I think she was just letting Morgan do her thing and really kind of playing a role player as a starter. We kind of talked about that with her how she can change that, and she has.”
Illinois is once again led by Karisma Penn and Adrienna GodBold. Penn is averaging a double-double at 18.7 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, while GodBold in eight games is averaging 18.9 points and 7.8 boards per outing.
Johnson has started 116 games at Iowa. The school record for most starts in Iowa history is 121, set by former Hawkeye Jennie Lillis, who is now Jennie Baranczyk, the head coach at Drake University.