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No. 2 IU women’s basketball hosting No. 5 Iowa Thursday with Big Ten title implications

Indiana women’s basketball is set to host its biggest regular season game of the year.

The Hoosiers, now No. 2 in the AP Poll, have already seen three top-10 battles in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall this season. But when No. 5 Iowa comes to Bloomington on Thursday (6:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network), it will be the first top-five game of the season.

In fact, this is the first top-five matchup in the Big Ten since 1993.

Iowa swept all three games against Indiana last season, including the Big Ten championship game. All those games were tense, emotional affairs, in different ways. They were close, too — each game was decided by seven points or fewer.

And IU head coach Teri Moren is expecting more of the same.

“I think it’s two really good basketball teams with really good pieces, on both sides,” Moren said. “It’s going to be, I think, a tough matchup for both teams.”

The Hoosiers (22-1, 12-1 Big Ten) have reeled off 10 consecutive wins after suffering their only loss of the season so far at Michigan State. The Hawkeyes (19-4, 11-1) are on an eight-game winning streak. The winner of this game will take a big step towards the Big Ten regular season title.

Both teams have similar resumes entering this game, with six Quadrant 1 wins each and no losses outside of Quadrant 1. IU is ranked No. 5 in the NET, and Iowa is No. 8.

IU’s two regular-season games against Iowa last season came in a three-day span, as the Hoosiers’ late-season schedule became very condensed to squeeze in previously postponed games. Additionally, star forward Mackenzie Holmes was fresh off returning from an eight-game absence with a knee injury, and was not yet back to full strength. Iowa took advantage of her limitations.

“I’m just grateful that this game is being played where we do have healthy pieces. Our team, in particular, is healthy. We’re not having to play and then turn around the next day, jump on a flight, play them again a day later, and that whole scenario that we got caught up in last year, having to play them,” Moren said. “And so it should make for a really good matchup.”

Iowa is the highest-scoring team in women’s college basketball, averaging 88 points per game. But the Hawkeyes’ defense allows 70.6 points per game, which ranks No. 305 in the nation (out of 350) and 10th in the Big Ten.

That was how the Hawkeyes played last year, when they won a share of the Big Ten regular season title and won the Big Ten Tournament. Iowa likes fast-paced games where its offense can run away from other teams.

Guard Caitlin Clark and forward Monika Czinano caused IU problems last year, and are once again focal points for Iowa. Czinano is third in the country and second in the Big Ten (behind Holmes) with a 67.3 field goal percentage, and scores 18.3 points per game (34th in the nation, fourth in the conference). Clark averages 27.6 points and 8.2 assists per game, both second in the country.

“They’re not doing anything different,” Moren said. “Caitlin’s going to take Caitlin shots, and she’s going to hit a few, sometimes a bunch, she’s a great facilitator as well. And then Czinano’s going to be the recipient of a lot of Caitlin’s passes, as well as from the other pieces. It’s a two-headed monster you’re going up against.”

Indiana’s defense has been solid, as it usually is under Moren. The Hoosiers give up 59.6 points per game, which is 63rd in the country and first in the Big Ten. But this IU squad, unlike last year’s iteration, has a much more potent offense to match that. IU scores 81.3 points per game, good for 10th in the country and third in the conference.

Mackenzie Holmes has been as dominant as ever, averaging 22 points per game (seventh in the country, second in the Big Ten) while shooting 69.59 percent (second in the country). She’s one of four IU players averaging more than 10 points per game, along with Sydney Parrish (13), Yarden Garzon (12), and Grace Berger (11.4).

Garzon and Parrish have helped give IU’s much more balance this year with improved outside shooting. Garzon is third in the nation with a 48.62 3-point percentage. IU, as a team, shoots 36.08 percent from 3-point range, which is 26th in the country. Iowa ranks 21st at 36.45.

That shooting is part of why Moren thinks this year’s IU team matches up with Iowa better than last year’s version.

“I think we’re bigger on the perimeter. I think we’re better defensively, we’re tougher defensively, and so I think it’ll be — I’m not making any promises — but I just think it’ll be a really good matchup,” Moren said. “I have confidence in our group that we are better than we were a year ago, and with Mack being healthy, I think that gives us a really good chance.”

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