Hawkeyes ready to hike up the standings

Feb. 3, 2009

IOWA CITY, Iowa — It’s a no-brainer that Big Ten women’s basketball in the month of February means crucial games. University of Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder views the week as a golden opportunity with the Hawkeyes staring at contests against Indiana and Minnesota.

Bluder’s Bunch has a chance for a February hike, if you will — as in a hike up the conference ladder.

“This week is a great opportunity for us because we’re playing two teams that are ahead of us in the standings,” said Bluder at a press conference Tuesday in the Carver-Hawkeye Arena press room. “If we want to make a movement up the standings, we obviously have to fare well this week.”

Iowa (13-8 overall, 6-4 Big Ten) is currently in sixth place in the league. Indiana (15-5, 8-3) is tied for second and Minnesota (15-6, 7-3) is in fifth, just ½ game out of second. The Hawkeyes host Indiana on Thursday, Feb. 5, with a 7:05 p.m. tip from Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa plays at Minnesota on Sunday, Feb. 8, at 2:05 p.m.

It is the second meeting for the Hawkeyes against both Indiana and Minnesota. Iowa lost to the Hoosiers in Bloomington, Ind., 76-54, on Jan. 4, and defeated the Golden Gophers, 74-57, on Jan. 11 in Iowa City.

“I’m optimistic we’ll play much better than we did the first time against Indiana,” Bluder said. “I relived that film again and it was pretty painful to watch. We didn’t play well and Indiana did play very well. They’re a good basketball team and they’re very balanced in scoring. We’re going to have to play very well to compete with them on Thursday night. I think we’ll be more up to the challenge.”

UI junior JoAnn Hamlin, who has missed the past three games with an ankle sprain, is questionable for the game against the Hoosiers.

“I would imagine — if anything — we’re going get from her a few back-up minutes,” Bluder said. “Quite honestly, I’d be happy with that because at least she’s back on the floor a little bit. We hope to have her back more in full force by Sunday.”

It will be the second straight road game for Indiana, which lost at Ohio State on Sunday, 59-51. The Hoosiers have dropped their last two away games, also falling at Illinois, 61-52, on Jan. 25. Indiana has four players averaging double figures in scoring — Amber Jackson (13.8), Whitney Thomas (12.6), Jamie Braun (11.7) and Jori Davis (11.4). Kim Roberson is averaging 9.3 points per game. The Hoosiers outscored Iowa 34-4 in paint points during the first meeting.

Indiana’s success shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. The Hoosiers returned four starters from the team that won 18 times in 2007-08 and tied Michigan State for fifth place in the Big Ten at 10-8.

“They played awfully well (in the first meeting),” Bluder said. “Some of that, we obviously didn’t play as well defensively as we could. I don’t think you can call them the surprise team in the Big Ten anymore. They’ve maintained this over 10 games now. I don’t think that’s still a surprise.”

UI freshman Kamille Wahlin — in the absence of Hamlin — has started three games in a row. During that time she has averaged 35 minutes and 12.7 points per game.

“If there’s one bright thing we can find from Jo’s injury is that our team might be more complete when she comes back,” Bluder said. “We might have a totally different lineup we can use when it fits us appropriately. If you have to look for bright spots with an injury, that is definitely there.”

Iowa has won its last two trips to Minnesota (68-66 in overtime on Jan. 3, 2008, and 58-56 on Dec. 28, 2006).

“It’s a tough place to play because they draw so well,” Bluder said. “It’s a louder arena. You have the raised floor, so it’s really different for your players. There are some unusual aspects of playing there. Last year we got a good lead in the first half and took the crowd out of it early.”