Jan. 13, 2009
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Lisa Bluder knows what makes a championship team. The University of Iowa head women’s basketball coach realizes that her Hawkeyes need to defend Carver-Hawkeye Arena, but the true mark of a winner is experiencing success on the road.
Iowa will have that chance Thursday, Jan. 15, with a 7:05 p.m. tipoff against Illinois from inside Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill. The Hawkeyes (9-7 overall, 2-3 Big Ten Conference) are coming off one of their most impressive wins of the season — 74-57 against Minnesota on Jan. 11. Illinois (4-13, 0-6) has dropped its last seven games and is winless in league play.
“This is a pretty important game for us to win because there are a lot of people who are beating Illinois and we have to be among that group,” Bluder said. “It’s one of those games where you say there is a little extra pressure on you to win.”
With more than 500 career coaching victories and four conference championships to her credit, Bluder recognizes the need for success away from Iowa City.
“We’ve played well at home in the past, but if you want to be a championship team, we have to play well on the road,” Bluder said. “If you want to be a champion, you have to do it on the road and we’ll start to see that at Illinois.”
The Hawkeyes are 6-1 this season inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena and 3-6 in games on the road or at a neutral site. Iowa defeated the Illini 60-58 last season in Champaign and have won the last four games at Illinois.
“They’re 0-6 and that’s always a little scary as a coach because you get worried that your players are going to look at that record and overlook Illinois,” Bluder said. “When you’re the defending Big Ten champs, you’re going to get everyone’s best shot. It’s a feather in their cap to take you down, so we have to make sure our team is prepared to play Illinois with the same type of focus and intensity we saw against Minnesota. If we do that, good things will definitely happen.”
The Illini are led by Jenna Smith, who Bluder calls one of the `best post players in the Big Ten.’ Smith averages 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game with 34 blocked shots.
“We can’t let her have any record-setting nights against us,” Bluder said.
“We’ve played well at home in the past, but if you want to be a championship team, we have to play well on the road. If you want to be a champion, you have to do it on the road and we’ll start to see that at Illinois.”
UI head coach Lisa Bluder
Lacey Simpson of Illinois averages 11.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. The Illini have played three nationally ranked teams, falling to Maryland by 27points, Virginia by 24 and North Carolina by nine.
“Even though they’re 0-6 in the Big Ten, their margin of loss is getting smaller and smaller,” Bluder said. “They’re playing people in closer games. They just haven’t found a way to win yet. Sometimes you have to learn how to win and I don’t know if they’ve learned how to win yet and I certainly hope they can wait another week.”
Iowa will face another tough post player in Amy Jaeschke when Northwestern comes to town Sunday, Jan. 18. The Wildcats (5-12, 1-5) are led by Jaeschke, a sophomore, who averages 16.0 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocked shots per game.
“Joe McKeown is an excellent coach,” Bluder said. “Amy Jaeschke was considered one of the best posts in America coming out of high school, so we have her to content with. So two outstanding posts this week. “
Bluder said that having three native Minnesotans on the Hawkeye roster — Kamille Wahlin, Kachine Alexander and Hannah Draxten — could have led to the improved focus and intensity displayed during the 17-point win against the Gophers.
“We got off to a better start against Minnesota and kept that pace going the whole game,” Bluder said. “That’s what excites me about that game — we never had any significant letups. The win is great, but the way we managed the win against Minnesota was even better. Now if we can find a way to roll that up in a ball and take it with us to Illinois, that would be great.”
Following the game at Illinois, the Hawkeyes play two consecutive and five of their next seven games at home. It has Bluder yearning for another extended run in the win column, similar to the eight-game streak from Jan. 13-Feb. 14. 2008.
“Last year we had a nice sequence when we got to that eight-game win streak where we took advantage of playing well on our home floor,” Bluder said. “Right now we’re going into the same type of stretch, so we have to use this and build some momentum going into the end of the year.”
The Hawkeyes host Northwestern on Sunday and stay at home to play Michigan on Monday, Jan. 26.
Iowa is 8-0 this season when allowing 59 or fewer points in a game. The Hawkeyes lead the all-time series against Illinois 42-16 and have won seven of the last eight meetings.