Jan. 8, 2008
By Derek Sawvell
The University of Iowa women’s basketball team is preparing for perhaps its toughest week of the season with games against Michigan State (Thursday) and Wisconsin (Sunday). Both the Spartans and Badgers were picked to finish in the top three of the Big Ten in the preseason, but both have gotten off to slow starts in Big Ten play. Wisconsin and Michigan State have records of 1-3 in conference play.
Iowa is 9-6 on the year and its 2-2 conference record has the Hawkeyes sitting in a tie for seventh place with Illinois. Every team in the Big Ten has at least one loss, including leader Minnesota, which lost at home to the Hawkeyes.
“We know this year that the conference is wide open,” Iowa guard Kristi Smith said. “We have to take it one game at a time.”
“This is a pretty important week for us having to play two of the top three conference picks,” UI head coach Lisa Bluder said.
Bluder again emphasized winning at home and playing an entire 40 minutes. The Hawkeyes clawed back into their most recent home contest against 20th-ranked Ohio State on Jan. 6 and pushed the Buckeyes to the limit in the second half after falling into a 19-point hole.
“I wish we would have gotten the win, but we did make it a game,” Bluder said. “I’m happy with our fight, but we need to figure out how to play from buzzer to buzzer. Just think how good we could become.”
Iowa’s first test of the week comes on the road at Michigan State against a Spartan team that leads the Big Ten in blocked shots with 6.1 per game. Sophomore Allyssa Dehaan leads the conference and is second in the nation with 76 blocked shots. She is Michigan State’s all-time leading shot blocker with 221 and she is currently fifth in the Big Ten scoring 16.1 points per game.
“Dehaan is someone you have to key on in order to win against them,” Bluder said. “I think you have to be physical with her. Nobody has really gotten to her but if you want to, you have to be physical.”
Michigan State also holds teams to 36.4-percent shooting from the field which is also first in the conference. Freshman Kalisha Keane has added a spark to the Spartans, scoring 13.9 points per game and has scored in double figures 12 times.
“They have talented freshmen, but I think the freshman from Canada (Keane) has made the biggest impact,” Bluder said. “She can shoot the three and drive so well.”
“They’re always a good team, “Smith said. “We have to prepare.”
Iowa has been led this season by Smith scoring 11.9 and Wendy Ausdemore scoring 11.7 points per game. The Hawkeyes sit closely behind the Spartans in field goal percentage defense at 36.8 percent per game and have held nine of 15 opponents to 58 points or less (going 7-2 in those games). Iowa also ranks second in the Big Ten in three-point shooting percentage at 37.4 percent (80-214). Three Hawkeyes — Smith, Ausdemore and Johanna Solverson — have accounted for 71 of the 80 three-point baskets.
“Michigan State is off to a slower start than predicted,” Bluder said. “Michigan State is a place that our players feel they have played well in the past.”
Thursday will be the 51st meeting between the Hawkeyes and the Spartans. Iowa leads the series 29-21, including a 13-10 record at East Lansing.
“If we want to finish in the top three of the conference, we have to start winning these games,” Bluder said. “All we can control is our own preparation. We know we are capable of going in there and winning. When you have a veteran team like ours, you expect them to handle themselves and Michigan State will be a good test for our basketball team.”
The game will tip at Michigan State at 7:05 p.m. on the Big Ten Network. This is the third of eight Iowa women’s games to be televised on the Big Ten Network. Bluder noted that the network helps players around the conference in scouting upcoming games.
“Being on the Big Ten Network helps players watch more Big Ten games,” Bluder said.
Click HERE for the Big Ten Network home page.