The Michigan women’s basketball team desperately needs a win tonight, but there is one problem. So do the Iowa Hawkeyes.
While Iowa (3-5 Big Ten, 11-8 overall) has gone 3-1 in Big Ten play at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the Hawkeyes are a dismal 0-4 on the road since the beginning of the conference season.
“It seems like both teams need to win pretty badly,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “It sure would be nice to just get one (road win) and get it over with. The longer (the streak) goes, I think the problem grows bigger and bigger.”
It’s not hard to see why Iowa has been struggling away from home. The Hawkeyes are averaging 15 fewer points, 10 fewer rebounds and five fewer assists in their road contests. But Bluder believes that her team’s road woes are not exclusive to her program, and she’s right.
In the Big Ten, home teams are 85-22 (.794), with 14 of those 22 losses coming from the league’s bottom two teams, Wisconsin and Northwestern.
Michigan (2-6, 11-8) has also struggled on the road in the Big Ten, equaling Iowa’s bleak 0-4 mark.
“I’m just happy to be home,” Michigan coach Sue Guevara said. “The road has not been very nice to us.”
In fact, no part of the Big Ten season has been very nice to Michigan.
The Wolverines have lost six of their eight Big Ten contests – seven of their last nine overall – after opening the season 8-1.
“We don’t really know what’s not there,” center Jennifer Smith said. “We’ll stick with the gameplan for 30 minutes and fall apart at the end.”
Following Michigan’s embarrassing 68-56 loss at Wisconsin (4-5, 6-14) on Sunday, Guevara said her team would make changes, but she did not know specifically what she needed to change. On Tuesday, Guevara commented, “I think so,” when asked if she will make switches with her starting lineup.
“We’re struggling scoring. We’re struggling defensively,” Guevara said. “I just think I need to make a few changes, and I think it could be based on who we are playing week to week.”
Against Iowa, Michigan’s defense will certainly be a factor. After allowing Wisconsin to shoot 53.5 percent from the field Sunday, the Wolverines will need to tighten up if they want to shut down a Hawkeye team that has several scoring options. Leading Iowa are juniors Jennie Lillis and Kristi Faulkner, carrying the scoring load with 16.4 and 15.3 points, respectively. With Lillis and Faulkner, the Hawkeyes are one of just three Big Ten teams to have two players in the top 10 in scoring.
Iowa knows it will have to overcome Michigan’s presence on the defensive end of the court.
“I’m impressed with Michigan’s size,” Bluder said. “They’re very athletic, (have) long arms. It’s going to be hard for us to run our offense against them.”
Along with a greater defensive intensity, Michigan will also need some offensive adjustments. The Wolverines made their way to the free throw line just 15 times over their last two games because of their lack of penetration.
Freshman Niki Reams will look to pick up where she left off against Wisconsin, when she came off the bench to play one of the best games of her career – scoring 15 points, dishing four assists and snatching three steals, all without a turnover.
“She’s been a real nice spark for us off the bench,” Guevara said of her 6-foot guard. “She gets to the basket, she can shoot the three, she forces people to play her on her dribble drive, and she also does a nice job for us rebounding the ball.”
Tonight’s contest marks the first game of the second half of Michigan’s Big Ten season.
“I’m disappointed in our play. (Being) 2-6 is certainly not something I anticipated for the first half of the Big Ten,” Guevara said. “That’s why I’m really looking forward to the second half.”
With a win tonight over an Iowa team in a similar position to itself, Michigan can get off on the right foot.