Jan. 29, 2008
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — The key to the University of Iowa’s sprint toward the top of the Big Ten Conference women’s basketball standings has essentially centered around two points: Having a long memory when it comes to past struggles and to remain motivated following recent success.
“Our motto is one and oh,” UI senior Johanna Solverson said. “It’s this game, this day. You have to play to win right now. We can’t skip a team because as soon as you skip a team, that’s when you’re going to lose a game.”
If ever a `trap game’ loomed on the horizon for the Hawkeyes, it would be the one at Northwestern on Thursday, Jan. 31. Iowa (13-7 overall, 6-3 Big Ten) has won four consecutive games. Northwestern (4-16, 0-8) has lost nine straight games and is 2-8 inside Welsh-Ryan Arena. Tip-off is 8:05 p.m. and it will be televised by the Big Ten Network.
“We’re playing at Northwestern and we have to guard against that,” UI head coach Lisa Bluder said Tuesday at her weekly media conference inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “It’s easy to kind of let down and start looking ahead to Indiana (Sunday, Feb. 3 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena). We have got to make sure they understand they have to play good basketball at Northwestern. You don’t want to ever assume anything going into a game. We need to make sure that we go in there and prepare for (Northwestern) just as much as we prepared for Purdue, Illinois and Michigan.”
The Wildcats are led by cousins Amy and Ellen Jaeschke. Amy, a freshman, is 6-foot-5 and averages 12.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Ellen, a junior, is 6-3 and averages 9.1 points and 5.5 rebounds. Freshman guard Meshia Reed averages 10.3 points per game and leads Northwestern with 24 three-point field goals.
The Hawkeyes have won 12 straight in the series, including six in a row at Northwestern. Last season Megan Skouby scored Iowa’s final eight points over the final 3-minutes, 8-seconds during a 63-61 win over the Wildcats a year ago.
Iowa, Minnesota and Purdue are in a tie for second place in the conference, ½-game behind Ohio State (7-2). Avoiding a stubbed toe is an emphasis for the Hawkeyes the next three days.
“We use examples of what has happened in the past,” Bluder said. “How Penn State went in there and lost last year. How we went in there and really didn’t play a very good game last year and kind of squeaked one out. You have to use those past examples. This is where experience comes in. “
Enter team senior captains Solverson and Abby Emmert.
“Their experience can speak to that as well,” Bluder said. “We cannot overlook anybody.”
Another reason to perform well at Northwestern is because Chicagoland is primary recruiting turf for the Hawkeyes. Solverson is from Lake Zurich, Ill., and Jenee Graham is from Bolingbrook, Ill.
“This is an important area because we recruit from that area,” Bluder said. “We’ll have as many fans there as Northwestern and that’s good for the Big Ten Network as well.”
Iowa’s four-game winning streak began on Jan. 13 with a 78-74 overtime victory at home against Wisconsin. That was followed by a win at Illinois (60-58) and home decisions against Purdue (69-53) and Michigan (66-61). The last time the Hawkeyes won five league games in a row was Jan. 15-Feb. 1, 2004 (Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Northwestern, Michigan State).
Bluder has seen a more assertive Iowa team during its recent winning streak.
“They’re just taking more assertion onto the floor,” Bluder said. “They’re going out there and saying, `this is our game’ and carrying themselves a little bit differently. It’s more in between their ears. It’s a decision that this might as well be ours. Why not?”
Although not a new tradition, Bluder has continually invited guest speakers to meet and motivate the Hawkeyes this season. This season the roll call has included Jennie Lillis, Lindsey Meder and Felicia Hall.
“That’s something we do quite often, but maybe that was a combination of a lot of those little things that really sunk home,” Bluder said. “We have probably done this a little bit more this year — everything from communication to focusing to stress reduction. We do those things quite a bit.”
During the past four victories, three different players have led Iowa in scoring and four have either led or shared for the rebounding lead. It has been a team effort. Wendy Ausdemore is second in the Big Ten in three-point field goals per game (2.3) and three-point field goal percentage (.434), but no other Hawkeye individual is in the top-seven of any category. In conference games, Iowa is second in rebound margin (plus-2.4) and third in assists (14.78), rebounds (34.2), field goal percentage (.422) and three-point percentage (.342).
“That’s what makes our team so much fun right now,” Bluder said. “We’re getting solid play from a lot of different people.”
Even though Bluder’s Bunch won’t peek ahead, the Hawkeyes return home to play Indiana on Sunday (1:05 p.m.) and remain in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, Feb. 7, to play Michigan State (7:05 p.m.). Indiana is 12-8, 5-3; Michigan State is 12-10, 4-6.
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