Oct. 10, 2008
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by Sean Neugent
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa women’s basketball team, fresh off a Big Ten Conference championship and a trip to the NCAA Tournament, aim to play deep into the postseason this time around. The exhibition season starts Nov. 2 against Quincy University.
“Just like last year, I don’t think teams do remarkable things without special seniors, and we have five special seniors again this year, just like we did last year,” UI head coach Lisa Bluder said. “In fact, I think we kind of have this unique combination right now of successful experience and youthful enthusiasm. If we can get those two things to blend together, think we’ve got a really, really good product on our hands.”
The Hawkeyes lost five players to graduation, but return three keys that will be hungry to take the UI to another Big Ten Championship and deeper into the tournament. Seniors Kristi Smith, Wendy Ausdemore and Megan Skouby all return to the court to lead the Hawkeyes.
“We return three key players from last year,” Bluder said. “Kristi Smith, who I think is the best point guard in the Big Ten Conference. Wendy Ausdemore, who is ranked as the best three-point shooter in the Big Ten Conference. Megan Skouby, who has had the most experience of any center in the Big Ten conference. Those are three very key positions. We return exceptional people at all those positions.”
A successful 2008-09 campaign will take them to the biggest stage in women’s college basketball — the NCAA tournament. Making the tournament will take them to their favorite place — home. The NCAA first- and second-rounds will be held at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on March 22 and 24, giving the Hawkeyes a home field advantage.
“At the end of the year playing host to the NCAA tournament is something we have not done in 10 years here at the University of Iowa,” Bluder said. “Our players are very excited about the opportunity to host the tournament. What that means is if we are selected, and I’m not going to say if, when we are selected, we will be playing at home in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.”
“That’s huge,” Ausdemore said. “That is one of our big goals. We want to play right here in the NCAA tournament in front of all of our Iowa fans. Especially being a senior, there is no better way I would rather end my career than right here in Carver.”
If that doesn’t provide enough fuel for the fire, then this might — losing last year in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to the University of Georgia, 67-61, after tying with Ohio State as the regular-season Big Ten Champions. The Hawkeyes look to prove themselves yet again this year.
“As a team we always come up with goals. We want to be in the top three in the Big Ten, make a good run in the Big Ten tournament and obviously make the NCAA tournament.”
UI senior Kristi Smith
“That is always in the back of my mind,” Smith said. “I have never won an NCAA tournament game. So my last chance, if it doesn’t happen this year, it’s never going to happen.”
“We are out to prove that it wasn’t a fluke,” Skouby said. “That is what people are saying; that it was a fluke that we won the Big Ten. But, we are out to prove that we are just as good as everyone else and that we can get back to where we were last year. We want to prove that to everyone.”
The trio of Ausdemore, Skouby and Smith all earned Big Ten recognition last year after Smith was named first team, Skouby was named the Sixth Player of the Year and Ausdemore received honorable mention.
The Hawkeyes have laid out some steep tasks to accomplish this year but with last years run, the confidence surrounds them.
“As a team we always come up with goals,” Smith said. “We want to be in the top three in the Big Ten, make a good run in the Big Ten Tournament and obviously make the NCAA Tournament.”
The UI was picked to finish eighth last year and it tied for first. Ohio State, Michigan State and Purdue come into this season as the favorites to win the conference title.
“I’ve never really been a big believer in that you have to have those early-season rankings,” Bluder said. “I’d rather have them at the end of the year, like any coach would. As far as the Big Ten, we didn’t do extremely well in postseason play last year. So it’s probably where we should be. We need to go out and earn it this year, earn that respect nationally.”
If last year was any indication, the Hawkeyes love to be the underdog.