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Megan Gustafson, Lisa Bluder break down Iowa's win over IUPUI Dargan Southard, msouthard@gannett.com

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — A refreshed Iowa women’s basketball team looks to keep the momentum flowing as the Hawkeyes hit the final portion of their nonconference schedule.

Finals and schoolwork dominated the previous week, but No. 16 Iowa (7-2) still found time to take a breath with seven days off in between games. But the always intense in-state slate resumes Sunday when the Hawkeyes host Northern Iowa (5-3) at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“It’s been nice to just be able to go back to the fundamentals and work on improving ourselves. But at the same time, we were able to get some rest too,” senior Megan Gustafson said. “It was very much needed. I know I was pretty sore after our last stretch. Just being able to rest our bodies I think was great for everyone.

“But we’re really excited to get these last couple nonconference games in.”  

For the first time in almost a calendar year, Iowa has all its pieces ready to roll basically at full strength. It was in the Northern Iowa game last Dec. 17 that Tania Davis tore her ACL, and the Hawkeyes began this year with Kathleen Doyle (hand fracture) on the shelf.

Doyle returned last Wednesday against Iowa State and played last Saturday versus IUPUI — but the entire week was still a bit of a rushed process. The seven straight days without a game came at the perfect time for Doyle, who’ll still have to play with a soft brace on her left hand.

Her comfort level returning is a huge lift. Now, the Hawkeyes feel they're equipped to push forward with all their weapons humming.

“Before Iowa State, we had one practice with our whole team. Before IUPUI, we’d had a total of three practices with our whole team,” Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder said. “So we’ve been set back a little bit because of that. And now, this week has given us a little bit of time to adjust to different rotations, Kathleen getting her timing back. So this week has been good for all those things.”

If anyone can relate to re-adjusting on the fly, it’s Tanya Warren. The UNI coach will have her first game Sunday without preseason all-MVC pick Megan Maahs, who suffered a season-ending injury in the Panthers’ 64-60 win over North Dakota on Dec. 4.

There’s no good time to lose a player as impactful as that, but the 12 days in between games at least gave the Panthers an extended chunk of time to figure out a contingency plan.

As pivotal as it is for UNI to replace Maahs on the court, moving past the emotional obstacles is just as crucial.    

“Honestly for us now, the season is going to be a work in progress,” Warren said, “because of the caliber of kid who you lost — all-conference, all defense, your emotional leader really. There’s a lot we lost there. So we’ve got to really just continue to take it day by day and continue to get better as one. I’m not going to use that as a measuring stick in terms of where our season is going to go.

“It’s going to be a day-to-day process from us.”

Under different circumstances, Bluder preached that same simple message this week. Sunday is another chance to push onward.           

“We don’t want to take any steps back right now,” she said. “We just want to keep climbing and climbing and climbing.”       

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.

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