Hawkeyes prep for Fighting Illini

Jan. 17, 2008

by Derek Sawvell

IOWA CITY, Iowa — After evening its conference record at 3-3 by defeating Wisconsin in overtime 78-74 at Carver Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, the University of Iowa women’s basketball team is looking forward to its busiest week of the year with three games in seven days. It all starts Monday, Jan. 21, on the road against Illinois.

Iowa is 10-7 on the year while Illinois is 11-5 and 3-2 in Big Ten play.

“This has been an unusual week for us because we have no school and no games,” UI head coach Lisa Bluder said. “It’s been feeling like summer, at least inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.”

Bluder and the Hawkeyes have been able to focus on better offensive execution as well as working on several different game situations in order to prepare for the upcoming week in which the Hawkeyes play Illinois on the road Monday and Purdue and Michigan at home Thursday and Sunday.

“This week has given us an opportunity to spend some time working on us,” Bluder said. “We’ve been trying to make our team better. It’s an incredible week for us having three games in seven days which we don’t ever do in the Big Ten. It’s an important week because we are playing a lot of games and the team is looking forward to it.”

The Monday night game is unusual for Iowa since they are used to playing on Sunday. However, Monday’s game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

“It’s unusual for us but it is unusual for Illinois, too,” Bluder said. “It’s great we’re going to get the TV exposure. It’s wonderful for recruiting.

Bluder acknowledged that having more games on television is a plus for recruits.

“Every time we have a game on television we get the word out not only to recruits but to the recruit’s parents and coaches,” Bluder said. “It’s an opportunity for them to see us play but also to let them know the story that if their daughter would choose to come to Iowa, they can watch her play several times per year.”

On the court, Iowa has gotten contributions from several players.

“Anytime you have the extra depth, it truly helps you in situations where you’re playing back-to-back or a lot of games in one week,” Bluder said. “We’ve had different people show up at different times.”

One of those players stepping up is senior center Stacy Schlapkohl. Schlapkohl has scored in double figures in five of Iowa’s last seven games and has been looking more comfortable on the court since Big Ten play has begun.

“I’m happy with the way Stacy is playing,” Bluder said. “She’s so strong inside and Stacy’s very confident shooting the ball. I’m very happy with the way Stacy is playing on the defensive side. I think she’s doing a tremendous job. She’s being physical and she’s trying to work hard to keep the ball out of the post.”

The one-two punch of Schlapkohl and Megan Skouby in the post has been an asset for the Hawkeyes throughout this season.

“It’s really nice that we have Stacy playing well and Megan coming in off the bench and giving us great minutes,” Bluder said. “What a special situation for us to be in to have two quality posts like that.”

The Hawkeyes’ conference record leaves them in eighth place in the Big Ten, yet they are only one game behind second-place Minnesota. With the conference race remaining tight, every game is important down the stretch for Iowa.

“Our first priority is Illinois and winning there,” Bluder said. “We’ve played well there in the past. We have to keep playing with that passion and intensity for 40 minutes. It would do wonders for us to go into Illinois and get a win.”

Iowa has held leads in several of its losses this season and Bluder acknowledged that the team has been working on how to play with the lead.

“We worked on all situations this week but one of them is definitely playing with a lead,” Bluder said. “We’ve talked about how to hang onto the basketball and make sure you get a good shot. We’ve had some lapses and that’s what we have to fix. We have to keep showing them the good things that are happening when we play really, really well.”

Sharp-shooter Kristi Smith has also stepped up her play now that the Big Ten schedule has picked up. She has scored in double figures a team-leading 12 times this season and is averaging 12.5 points per game.

“Her numbers are better, she’s our leading scorer and she’s playing a lot of minutes,” Bluder said. “She’s not scared to take it in there against the big girls. She’s good off the dribble and pulling up for jump shots. Kristi knows that we need her.”

Wendy Ausdemore is also averaging double-digits (10.6) per game yet her shooting percentages have gone down since beginning Big Ten play.

“She’s not shooting as well as she’s capable of right now,” Bluder said. “She needs to keep shooting. We’ll be a much better basketball team when Wendy gets back on track. Wendy and Kristi were two of our hardest workers in the off-season in the summer and you sure like to see that work pay off.”

Iowa’s game against Illinois can be seen on the Big Ten Network at 7:05 p.m. on Monday. The Hawkeye’s return home Thursday, Jan. 24, to play Purdue at 7:05 p.m.

Click HERE for the Big Ten Network home page.