Big Ten leaders collide Thursday in Columbus, Ohio

Feb. 19, 2008


IOWA CITY, Iowa — If being the Big Ten women’s basketball front-runner is a stressful position, you would never know it by looking at University of Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder.

Bluder’s Bunch, which sits alone on top of the conference with an 11-4 league mark, travels to Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday, Feb. 21, to play an Ohio State team that is ½ game behind Iowa in the standings at 10-4. Tip-off is 6:05 p.m. from Value City Arena.

“This is a relaxing week,” Bluder said. “We only have one game to prepare for. It’s going to be another great week of Iowa basketball.”

The Hawkeyes defeated Minnesota at home last Sunday, 72-69, and they have now won nine of their last 10 games. In the first meeting against Ohio State on Jan. 6, Iowa slipped into a 19-point hole (48-29) early in the second half before out-scoring the Buckeyes the rest of the way, 36-25. Ohio State held on to win, 73-65.

“I know we’re going to focus on playing two halves and we have to focus on rebounding,” said Iowa junior Wendy Ausdemore, who scored 22 points during the victory against Minnesota. “Ohio State is a big game, but we also have to stay focused for our last two (Feb. 28 against Northwestern and March 2 at Wisconsin). We have to get those. There are three games left and this is exciting.”

Iowa is 18-8 overall. The only blemish in Carver-Hawkeye Arena this season in conference play is against the Buckeyes, who are ranked 20th in the country by the Associated Press and No. 22 by ESPN/USA Today. Ohio State has won the last three Big Ten Conference titles.

“We obviously know that it’s a very difficult place to play and this is the one team in the Big Ten we haven’t beaten (this season),” Bluder said. “This is where we want to be. We’re fighting for first place with three games to go. It’s a fun place to be.”

Not only are Iowa and Ohio State neck-and-neck in the league standings, but the all-times series is also a wash after 48 meetings. The Buckeyes have had the most recent success, winning the last nine games and 10 of 11. Iowa is winless in seven tries at Value City Arena.

“I want our players to go into Ohio State and play stress-free,” Bluder said. “I want them to be relaxed and play hard, but not to worry about anything for 40 minutes. The last time we played them we only played 20 minutes.”

Kristi Smith turned in a 20-point, four-assist performance in the first meeting against Ohio State. Ausdemore added 10 points and five assists. Smith is the leading scorer on the season for Iowa, averaging 13.0 points, 3.2 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Ausdemore has averaged 11.8 points and 2.4 three-point field goals per outing. Johanna Solverson (9.3) and Megan Skouby (9.1) are both averaging more than nine points a game. Krista VandeVenter and Jenee Graham are averaging 5.0 rebounds. Ausdemore leads the conference in three-point field goal percentage (.444) and is second in three-point field goals per game (2.42).

Ohio State is on top of the conference in scoring offense (72.1), scoring margin (plus-13.4), field goal percentage (.475), defensive rebounds (25.92) and assists (16.32). The Hawkeyes are tops in field goal percentage defense (.379) and three-point percentage defense (.295). Leading the Buckeyes offensively are Jantel Lavender (17.4), Marscilla Packer (14.8) and Ashlee Trebilcock (10.4). Lavender also averages 9.7 rebounds per game.

“I want our players to go into Ohio State and play stress-free. I want them to be relaxed and play hard, but not to worry about anything for 40 minutes. The last time we played them we only played 20 minutes.”
UI head coach Lisa Bluder

Ohio native Skouby (Mentor, Ohio/Mentor) could reach a milestone during her homecoming. She has 994 points in her career (12.6 ppg). The pipeline from Ohio will not dry up with the departure of Skouby. The Hawkeyes have already signed 5-foot-9 guard/forward Shante Jones from Dayton for next season.

“There is so much talent in that state,” Bluder said. “Being in the Big Ten, we have a nose in, so to speak, with all of them. It is a good recruiting state for us. We like to think we go from Denver to Cleveland as our recruiting base west coast to east.”

Iowa is 9-4 this season (7-2 in the Big Ten) in games decided by 10 points of less.

“I think it shows maturity on the team,” Bluder said. “We’ve been there, we’re an experienced basketball team and I think they feel real good about themselves in close games. That is a great component to victory — just knowing that you’ve been there, you’ve done it and you can do it again.”

Bluder was asked if she felt her team was in good enough position to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.

“I would think so, just where we sit right now, on top of the Big Ten Conference,” Bluder said. “I would think we would (be in), but you don’t want to take any chance. I think we’re looking at five (Big Ten) teams that will go.”

Iowa’s ascent up the league standings might have surprised some of the coaches in the Big ten, who had the Hawkeyes penciled in for seventh in the preseason. It hasn’t come as a shock to Bluder’s Bunch.

“We’re surprising other people, but we’re not surprising ourselves,” Bluder said. “We felt like we could compete with the top of this conference, but obviously other people didn’t. It’s a little more satisfying when you can do that.”

At the end of Bluder’s weekly media conference, the question of the rematch with the Buckeyes resurfaced.

“I think they’re better and I think we’re better,” Bluder said.

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