Bluder continues to develop players, the UI program

March 31, 2009

IOWA CITY, Iowa — For the sixth time in nine seasons, the University of Iowa women’s basketball team advanced to the NCAA tournament as Bluder’s Bunch surpassed 20 wins for a fourth time. The Hawkeyes won 42 games the past two seasons — and graduated a whopping total of 10 seniors.

“Every year you try to be the best in your conference,” Bluder said at a casual meeting with reporters Tuesday in the Carver-Hawkeye Arena press room. “This year we wanted to repeat as Big Ten champions. We tied for second. Sometimes you set goals and you don’t reach your goals, but you end up a lot better off that you would have had you not set that goal. That’s how I look at this year. It was still a great year for our program. We didn’t reach all our goals, but we certainly achieved a lot more than anybody thought we were going to achieve.”

Iowa finished with a 21-11 record overall, 13-5 in league play. The Hawkeyes won seven consecutive games from Feb. 12 to March 6 and highlighting the season were victories against No. 22 Iowa State (66-46) and No. 13 Ohio State (85-75). Iowa State advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament and the Buckeyes were in the round of 16.

“I feel we have great momentum as a program right now, but everyone can obviously see that we graduated 10 student-athletes in the last two years,” Bluder said.

Bluder and her staff have become adept at scouring the nation and finding untapped potential. A prime example is consensus first-team all-Big Ten point guard Kristi Smith, who finished her Hawkeye career with 1,455 points, 412 assists, 185 three-point field goals and an 83.3 free throw percentage.

“We have to go out and find players and work on developing them,” Bluder said. “Kristi Smith is a great player, but at the same time, we found her and worked hard and developed her. Yes, we’re going after Blue Chip athletes, but at the same time, part of being at Iowa is taking kids and developing them into great players.”

Smith averaged 13.2 points per game and led a balanced Iowa team that finished 13-2 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Following Smith in the double-figure scoring column were seniors Wendy Ausdemore (12.3) and Megan Skouby (12.1) and sophomore Kachine Alexander (10.0). The graduation loss of Smith, Ausdemore, Skouby, Lindsey Nyenhuis and Nicole VanderPol will leave the Hawkeyes with a void of 56.3 percent of their 2008-09 scoring.

Key returnees include Alexander, a two-time Big Ten player of the week and a second team (coaches) and third team (media) award-winner, freshman Kamille Wahlin, a member of the all-Big Ten Freshman team, and junior JoAnn Hamlin, who started the first 18 games of the season before suffering an ankle injury. Alexander was the team leader in rebounds (8.8 per game) and assists (3.8 per game). Wahlin and Hamlin both averaged 7.6 points per game. Wahlin was third on the team with 28 three-point field goals and 2.7 assists per game; Hamlin was second with 6.0 rebounds and 0.9 blocked shots per game.

“I’m excited about Kamille and Kash. They’re young and they made a big impact on our team,” Bluder said. “We do have good cornerstones there along with JoAnn Hamlin. JoAnn will be back and hopefully healthy. We have a lot to build on.”

The Hawkeyes finished fifth in the nation in free throw percentage (462 of 583, .792) and 18th in three-point percentage (196 of 537, .365). Smith was 16th in three-point percentage (65 of 157, .414), Skouby was 48th in free throw percentage (91 of 110, .827) and Alexander was 62nd in rebounds. Ausdemore shot 91.2 percent from the line and Smith was an 83.9-percent free throw shooter, but both fell short of the minimum 80 made free throws to qualify in the NCAA statistics.

Five opponents were ranked in the top 22 when they played Iowa, including a three-game stretch against No. 3 California, No. 12 Duke and the No. 22 Cyclones. The lineup next season should soften, but there will still be an ACC opponent in the challenge of conferences, a road game at Iowa State (27-9) and home games against South Dakota State (32-3), which lost by two points in the second round of the NCAA tournament, and Kansas (21-13), a semifinalist in the WNIT.

“Next year’s schedule won’t be as difficult as this year,” Bluder said. “The last two years we came out of our nonconference games 7-4. This year I thought we taxed ourselves playing Duke, California and those types of teams.”

Ausdemore was named third team all-Big Ten by coaches and honorable mention by the media and Skouby was honorable mention by both the coaches and media. Sophomore forward Kelsey Cermak, who played in 17 games, was named academic all-Big Ten.