Feb. 26, 2009
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by Richie Zawistowski
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It was celebration time inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena as the University of Iowa women’s basketball team sent its five seniors off with a 69-56 win over Illinois on Thursday.
Coupled with a Michigan State loss, the Hawkeyes (19-9 overall, 12-5 Big Ten Conference) moved into a third-place tie in the league.
Iowa is also on a five-game winning streak, and will look for No. 6 six in its regular-season finale at Northwestern on March 1 .
Five Iowa seniors — Kristi Smith, Wendy Ausdemore, Megan Skouby, Lindsey Nyenhuis, and Nicole VanderPol — were recognized for their contributions on and off the court for the Hawkeyes over the past four seasons. Smith, Ausdemore, and Skouby made Big Ten history as the three Hawkeyes are the highest scoring triplet in the history of Big Ten women’s basketball from the same graduating class.
While the seniors were honored, it was the underclassmen who helped the Hawkeyes come away victorious. Sophomore Kachine Alexander scored 13 points and added 11 rebounds and freshman Kamille Wahlin chipped in with 13 points to lead the Hawkeyes. Ausdemore was right behind with 10, followed by Smith and Skouby with nine and eight points respectively.
The Hawkeyes struggled to get their shots to drop early on, but their hard work on the glass and on defense kept them in the game. Iowa shot 36.1-percent from the field (13-36) in the first half, but held Illinois to just 34.6-percent (9-26). Wahlin took the first lead for the Hawkeyes as she buried a three from the corner to put Iowa on top 9-7, and looked to stop Iowa’s shooting woes five minutes into the game.
Iowa didn’t exactly heat up, but they got their shots to fall at times. Hannah Draxton came off the bench to provide a spark as she hit two three-pointers as the Hawkeyes were trying to get going offensively.
Ausdemore decided the best way to get her shot to start falling was to take the ball strong to the basket. She had a nice pump fake at the three point line that got her defender off balance and she took advantage by slicing through the lane and finishing with the left hand giving Iowa a 30-19 lead with 1:20 remaining in the half. The Hawkeyes would head into the locker room with a 32-19 lead.
The second half started much differently than the first. Illinois opened the second half with a pair of three pointers, but Wahlin and Smith would answer for Iowa. Wahlin hit two three’s and Smith would add another of their own for a 43-28 lead with a little over two minutes into the second half.
The Illini would stay true to their name and keep fighting. They would another three part of a 19-7 run that would eventually cut the lead to single digits at 47-43 with ten minutes left.
Ausdemore was right there to provide her team with senior leadership as she hit a tough shot off the glass to push the lead to 49-43 Iowa. Draxton got a piece of an Illini shot underneath, and Iowa was able to capitalize with Smith knocking down two free-throws at the other end to push the lead back to double digits 53-43 with 8 minutes left.
Then, all those that were in attendance were treated to the Alexander show. After a bad pass from Smith and an apparent turnover, Alexander showed great hustled to get the ball back for Iowa and found JoAnn Hamlin who converted a jumper from 15-feet out for a 56-46 Hawkeye lead. Alexander then took the initiative to put the ball in the basket by herself the next trip down the floor. She took a pass on the baseline and went up and under as she converted a tough reverse layup for and and-one opportunity. She knocked down the free-throw for an eleven point Iowa lead 59-48 six minutes remaining.
The next time down she took her defender off the dribble and drove the lane with her right hand and hit the layup with a defender draped all over her. This was big for the Hawkeyes who pushed the lead back into double digits at 61-48 with five minutes left in the game.
Seniors Neynhius and VanderPol were inserted with 3:10 left and brought the Hawkeye faithful to their feet with a standing ovation as the Hawkeyes closed out the game getting the win.
Illinois slipped to 8-20, 4-13.
Iowa travels to Northwestern on Sunday, March 1, for its regular season finale, before competing in the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis. Tip-off against Northwestern is scheduled for 2:05 p.m.