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'Revenge,' late-game improvement on Hawkeyes' agenda ahead of Ohio State rematch


Dargan Southard   | Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Iowa snapshots of Jan. 13 paired frustration in the present with disappointment in reflection.

After letting a double-digit second-half lead slip away against Ohio State — which simultaneously ended the Hawkeyes' bid for a ranked upset and their 42-game home winning streak — Iowa understandably felt the magnitude of such a slipup. No one wants to be in the business of giving games away. 

Three weeks later, the Buckeyes (10-2, 6-2 Big Ten Conference) still sit in the top 15. And the Hawkeyes (10-4, 6-4) remain in search of a Big Ten toppling that will turn heads. Thursday's rematch inside Value City Arena, originally slated for Dec. 18 until Ohio State had COVID-19 issues, could not have had a timelier reschedule. An opportunity for Iowa to deliver payback and leap forward exists with this 5 p.m., BTN-televised affair.            

"We want revenge," redshirt sophomore guard Kate Martin said. "We're just going to go there with a full head of steam. We don't want to let up, and obviously, we know we could've most likely won a few of our close (losses). We just have been focusing on ourselves. We know Ohio State is a good team, but that doesn't scare us." 

The Buckeyes, though, look even scarier than when they trekked out of Iowa City with a rare win. Ohio State has racked up its only two losses in the last three weeks, including last time out against Northwestern, but it also added three ranked wins in that timeframe. January victories over Michigan, Maryland and Indiana have bolstered the Buckeyes' stock tremendously. 

Aiding the ascension has been the return of Dorka Juhász, Ohio State's 6-foot-4 Hungarian forward who's back active after missing more than a month. Juhász returned the game after Iowa and has averaged a double-double (12.6 points, 12.2 rebounds) in the five contests since. 

"She's a difference-maker, there's no doubt," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said Wednesday. "We had an advantage in the first game, her not being on the court. She is one of the best players in the Big Ten Conference, and now, you go from (facing) four double-figure (scoring) players to five. You go from (facing) four three-point shooters to five on the floor at the same time. She's an excellent rebounder and somebody who can beat you off the bounce too.

"...They're a different team when Dorka's on the floor, and we have to be prepared for that."            

Iowa hopes it's a different team too, at least from the one that failed to bury the Buckeyes despite leading for all but 89 seconds of the second half. The Hawkeyes eventually dropped that Jan. 13 affair in overtime. And although Iowa has added victories against Purdue and Minnesota since, the Hawkeyes' last ranked battle unfolded similarly down the stretch.      

Iowa insists its winning-time confidence hasn't wavered, despite being on the wrong side of some resume-enhancing chances. Among all the things a positive Columbus trip could accomplish, restoring success against upper-echelon competition headlines the list. 

"I definitely would say we're confident. I just think it's mental errors more than anything," freshman Caitlin Clark said. "It's time and score — not needing to do some of the things with the ball that we've been trying to do — such as taking a shot early in the shot clock or forcing a pass that leads to a turnover.

"Everybody's confidence level is fine. Those are the moments you want to play in. That's fun basketball. So I would say our confidence level is good. It's just a few mental errors that we need to keep improving on down the road."     

While NCAA Tournament chatter hasn't been as loud across college basketball during this pandemic-altered season, Iowa is eyeing a Big Dance spot with room to improve. The Hawkeyes' NET sheet includes a 3-4 Quad 1 record — with only one of those victories arriving in Big Ten play. After an early boost from wins at Drake and against Iowa State, Iowa has dropped four of its last five Quad 1 opportunities.           

ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme currently has the Hawkeyes as a No. 8 seed — one of seven Big Ten teams included in his latest projection (Ohio State would be there too if not for a one-year postseason ban) A win Thursday would elevate Iowa's NCAA Tournament status and then some. 

Can the Hawkeyes pounce on this bounce-back chance?

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.