Jan. 5, 2005
By CHUCK SCHOFFNER
AP Sports Writer
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) – In what was expected to be a rough season for Iowa women’s basketball, the Hawkeyes have handled everything thrown their way – perfectly.
Only two Division I teams in the country are still unbeaten. Top-ranked LSU is one, No. 18 Iowa the other.
Coach Lisa Bluder’s team has rocketed to a 13-0 start, the second best in school history, fueled by a 5-foot-6 guard who has suddenly become a big-time scorer and helped by four freshmen giving the team solid minutes.
It’s more than anyone could have envisioned. Iowa was coming off a so-so 16-13 season, all-Big Ten players Jennie Lillis and Kristi Faulkner were gone and point guard Lindsay Richards was recovering from knee surgery.
“I think everyone has to be a little surprised,” center Jamie Cavey said. “No one ever really thinks you’re going to be 13-0 in the beginning. You always want to be and it’s always a hope and you keep it in the back of your mind that you want to do it.
“But you’re always ready for those losses. We just haven’t had them yet. We’ve played great so far.”
The Hawkeyes have succeeded against a competitive schedule that’s about to become even harder. They defeated Oklahoma when the Sooners were ranked 21st; have victories over Missouri, Florida and Marquette, all of whom made the NCAA tournament last season, and have handed Iowa State its only loss.
Iowa’s latest victory was a 72-58 win at Illinois, which has defeated No. 22 UCLA and then-No. 21 Louisiana Tech.
“I think this year we’re just so much more laid back,” Johanna Solverson said. “When we get down with a couple of minutes left, if we have a turnover, it’s like, `OK, take our time, just get it back on defense.’ We know what we’ve got to do. Just do it.
“We’re just calm, relaxed and we play basketball. Not one of us is nervous that we’re going to lose.”
The biggest change for the Hawkeyes has been Crystal Smith, a small but quick junior who leads the team with an 18.1 scoring average and is shooting 55 percent.
Always a good defensive player, Smith had never been a factor on offense. She averaged 2.8 points and shot 37 percent her first two years at Iowa.
“She’s just amazing in everything she does on the court,” said Cavey, who’s averaging 15.7 points and shooting 62 percent. “It’s hard to explain how good she is and where it came from. It’s always obviously been in her and it’s just that now she’s letting it out and she has a chance to shine.”
Freshmen Abby Emmert, Stacy Schlapkohl, Krista VandeVenter and Jenee Graham also have contributed. They had to because the team has only six other scholarship players. Emmert is the starting point guard and VandeVenter leads the team in rebounding.
“We wouldn’t be sitting here without those four,” Bluder said. “They are 40 percent of our team.
“That’s what makes this all a little more interesting. Inexperienced teams usually lose early. Even if you’re talented, it takes a while. For us, it’s been inexperience plus we’ve had success. I think that’s unusual.”
Bluder has yet to see how her team handles adversity, but she might find out soon. A tough stretch awaits, starting Thursday at home against Penn State, which beat No. 9 Ohio State last week and handed No. 5 North Carolina its only loss. Road games with sixth-ranked Michigan State and Ohio State will follow.
“I don’t know how we’re going to handle it when it happens,” Bluder said. “But I think we have to realize that if a loss happens, it’s certainly not the end of the world. I think how we handle that will be very important.”