Iowa controls its own destiny

Feb. 26, 2008

University of Iowa Game Notes | Listen to an interview with VandeVenter | Coach Bluder’s Press Conference

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The rest of the Big Ten Conference is looking up at the University of Iowa women’s basketball team which is in control of its own destiny with one week remaining in the regular season.

The Hawkeyes (18-9 overall, 11-5 Big Ten) are tied with Ohio State atop the league standings and a half game in front of Purdue with games remaining at home against Northwestern (5-23, 1-15) on Thursday and on the road against Wisconsin (15-11, 8-8) on Sunday. The game against Northwestern is Senior Night with a 7:05 p.m. tip inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Iowa is looking to secure a two-game sweep of both the Wildcats and Badgers. The Hawkeyes defeated Northwestern 70-55 on Jan. 31 and knocked off Wisconsin 78-74 in overtime Jan. 13, starting an eight-game winning streak.

The UI seniors playing their final home games on Thursday are Abby Emmert, Jenee Graham, Stacy Schlapkohl, Johanna Solverson and Krista VandeVenter.

“Here we are in the last week of the season and we’re in the thick of things,” UI head coach Lisa Bluder said. “This is exactly where you want to be as a competitive team. It’s an exciting week for us. The destiny is in our own hands. We have the opportunity to tie (for the Big Ten championship) if we win both games, but we have to take them one at a time.”

The Hawkeye focus meter received a boost on Sunday after Northwestern snapped a 16-game losing streak by defeating Penn State 70-58. The Wildcats are winless in seven league road games this season.

“I don’t think so,” senior Krista VandeVenter replied after being asked if Iowa was overlooking Northwestern. “We have five seniors and that leadership will get the team ready to go. I don’t think we can overlook anyone at this point.”

In the Wildcat win against Penn State, guard Nadia Bibbs scored 19 points with eight rebounds and four assists. Northwestern’s leading scorer, Amy Jaeschke, added 17 points and four blocked shots. For the season, Jaeschke is averaging 13.5 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.

“I would say (Northwestern) has improved,” Bluder said. “Every team improves from month to month. Obviously they’re coming off their win, so that was a monkey off their back and we just hope they’re not going to get on a roll right now. Last time, defensively, I thought they did a nice job with their full-court pressure against us. I think we’ll be a little more prepared for that this time.”

Bluder is preparing for an emotional Thursday evening. This season the five seniors have combined to average 24.3 points and 17.6 rebounds per game.

“These are five terrific seniors who have meant a great deal to our program,” Bluder said. “It’s going to be a very, very tough thing to say goodbye to them. They are tremendous people as well as great basketball players. To be quite honest, I’m probably more proud of their efforts as human beings.”

Bluder was asked how she would like to reflect back on this senior group a few years down the road.

“I hope I reflect on a Big Ten championship,” Bluder said. “That would be the most enjoyable thing to do that with them.”

What will VandeVenter remember most about her career at Iowa?

“Your teammates and the experiences you had with them,” VandeVenter said. “The trips and the coaches. I think that’s the stuff that sticks out more than the individual games.”

Before the championship talk really heats up, Bluder said that the Hawkeyes need to spend the week fine-tuning the area “between the ears.”

“If we can stay focused and continue to do well in our skills and fundamentals, the thing between the ears is the most important thing,” Bluder said. “You have got to have confidence going to play at Wisconsin. You have got to have confidence playing Northwestern at home. At the same time, you have to stay in the moment with every possession.”

The Hawkeyes have won nine of their last 11 games. Against Northwestern, they have won 13 in a row and eight consecutive in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa has won two in a row against Wisconsin and is 12-11 all-time in games played at Madison.

A trio of Hawkeye juniors have combined to score more than 52 percent of the team’s points this season. Kristi Smith is leading at 13.1 points per game, followed by Wendy Ausdemore (11.9). Megan Skouby averages 9.0 points per game and has a team-high 22 blocked shots.

Iowa leads the Big Ten Conference in assists (16.31 per game) and three-point field goals (6.50) and is second in rebounding (37.2), fewest rebounds allowed (33.7) and rebounding margin (plus-3.5).

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