IOWA CITY -- Considering an 0-2 Big Ten start, the Iowa Hawkeyes are now, according to Coach Lisa Bluder, "right where we want to be."
Back in position to rejoin the race.
The Hawkeyes (14-4 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) host league-leading Michigan State (11-5, 3-0) on Thursday (tipoff is 7 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena). Win, and they are within a half-game of the lead.
"It would definitely be a huge win if we could get it," said junior post Bethany Doolittle. "If we could beat a good team like Michigan State, it would put us in much better shape."
Iowa defeated Minnesota at home and Wisconsin on the road last week, navigating its way into the middle of the pack.
"That's the way the Big Ten is," said co-captain Theairra Taylor. "The competition is so good, anybody can hit you with a loss on a given night.
"We definitely want to see our name up at the top."
The season has passed its midpoint, and for Taylor -- the team's lone senior -- the nostalgia has begun to set in.
"There are only a few games left," said Taylor, who has overcome three ACL injuries throughout her career, including two at Iowa. "Coach (Jenni) Fitzgerald sent me a quote, 'Play for that little girl that fell in love with the game.'
"So I just want to have fun, and hopefully win a Big Ten championship."
A win Thursday would be a step in the right direction. Michigan State is the league's lone remaining unbeaten.
"They're quick. They're big. They have a lot of different weapons," Bluder said. "They play defense as well as anybody in the conference."
Annalise Pickrel paces the Spartans at 13.7 points per game. Freshman Aerial Powers adds 13.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per outing.
Iowa's defense, which allowed 86 and 87 points in its first two Big Ten games, has followed that by yielding 71 and 65 in the next two."Our defense can still get better," Bluder said. "Our help-side defense could be better. Our one-pass-away defense could be better."