Smith, Hawkeyes taking it one game at a time

March 19, 2009

Smith talks NCAA tournament

IOWA CITY, Iowa — You won’t catch University of Iowa point guard Kristi Smith looking past Georgia Tech, the Hawkeye’s first-round opponent in the NCAA tournament. It was a one-game-at-a-time philosophy — and some pretty impressive basketball — that helped the Iowa women’s team to its third postseason tournament in four seasons.

“In the beginning of the year we were looking ahead and we kind of got kicked in the butt,” Smith said of her squad’s 1-3 start in league play. “We re-evaluated the situation and took it one game at a time.”

The Hawkeyes were so focused on the game at hand that Smith couldn’t pinpoint an exact time of the season when she felt an NCAA berth was assured.

“Probably when we were on the (seven-game) winning streak,” Smith said. “Before that, there was a lot of worrying if we were going to make it. We decided to take it one game at a time and if we took care of business during the season, we would be in the tournament. I don’t think it was a specific win.”

Perhaps it was the 85-75 victory against No. 13 Ohio State on Feb. 12 when Smith made 10 of 10 free throws and finished with 20 points.

“We knew if we won that game, we couldn’t relax and lose to the teams that were below us,” Smith said. “We tried to stay as focused as possible.”

Penn State fell three days after the Buckeyes. Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Northwestern and Minnesota were all victims during a 16-day stretch. Iowa enters Sunday’s games against Georgia Tech with a record of 21-10 overall — the third 20-plus win season for the Hawkeyes since 2004-05. A win over the Yellow Jackets would be Iowa’s first in the NCAA tournament since a 69-62 victory against Virginia on March 16, 2002.

“We have to prepare the best we can,” Smith said. “It’s tournament time and we really have to stress that to the freshmen. Anything can happen in the postseason, we have to come ready to play.”

A consensus first-team all-Big Ten selection, Smith has been ready to play all season. She leads the Hawkeyes in scoring (414 points in 31 games, 13.4 scoring average), minutes played (33.8 per game), three-point field goals (63), three-point field goal percentage (.420) and steals (31). She also averages 3.2 assists per game. Smith has scored in double figures in 25 of 31 games this season.

“In the beginning of the year we were looking ahead and we kind of got kicked in the butt. We re-evaluated the situation and took it one game at a time.”
UI senior Kristi Smith

It will be the third time Smith has played in an NCAA tournament, a feat she calls a good way to end her senior year.

“Throughout the whole recruiting process the coaches said they wanted to get a good class in here because we had aspirations to go to the NCAA tournament four years and we almost go that accomplished.”

The Hawkeyes played at Denver in 2005 and at Norfolk, Va., last season.

Carver-Hawkeye Arena will be the host site for the first two rounds of the tournament. Iowa was 13-1 at home this season, winning its last eight games. During the season inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the Hawkeyes defeated No. 22 Iowa State by 20 points (66-46) and No. 13 Ohio State by 10 (85-75).

“It’s going to be so awesome having our fans and family members here,” Smith said. “We can do our routines and sleep in our own beds.”

A possible game on Tuesday, March 24, is the furthest thing from her mind.

“It’s my last go-round and it’s the same for the other seniors,” Smith said. “We want to leave it all out there and play as long as we can. You can’t look past anyone here, because one loss and you’re done.”

Iowa seniors Smith, Wendy Ausdemore, Lindsey Nyenhuis, Megan Skouby and Nicole VanderPol have led the Hawkeyes to a four-year record of 73-49 (.598).

Click HERE to purchase tickets online. Tickets can also be purchased by calling 1-800 IA-HAWKS or at the UI Athletics Ticket Office in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.