Iowa-Michigan Open Big Ten Play Sunday

Dec. 4, 2009

IOWA CITY, Iowa — When the options are playing basketball on Christmas Day or opening the conference season on the sixth day of December…well, even the Big Ten powers that be enjoy a little family time at home. That doesn’t make the abnormally-early opener universally popular.

“I can’t believe we’re sitting here in the first week of December talking about Big Ten play,” UI head coach Lisa Bluder said Friday at a press conference inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “It’s pretty unusual, but we’re going to have to prepare rather quickly to open up Big Ten against a good team.”

Iowa (5-3 overall) hosts Michigan (4-2) on Sunday with a 5 p.m. start. The Hawkeyes have won the last four meetings and hold a 41-11 advantage in the all-time series.

It promises to be an exciting evening in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Sunday’s game is Take a Kid to a Game Day and youth 18 and under will be admitted free with the purchase of an adult ticket. Those in attendance will also have a chance to win two tickets to Iowa’s upcoming football bowl game.

As far as personnel news goes for Bluder’s Bunch, two out of three ain’t bad. Junior Kachine Alexander, sidelined for a month with a stress fracture, is “moving along very nicely,” according to Bluder. She will have another X-ray Monday.

“I’m pleased with what’s happened so far,” Bluder said. “It’s a long recovery.”

Freshman forward Gabby Machado, suspended from Wednesday’s game against Boston College because of unsportsmanlike conduct, will return against the Wolverines.

“It is very important (to have her back),” Bluder said. “Now we get to dress eight. That’s a big increase to go from seven to eight. We dressed Hannah (Draxten) the last game just to make it look a little better. Having Gabby back gives us an extra body, extra fouls and extra legs.”

The bad news concerns the progress of Draxten and her ailing back. Bluder said the sophomore forward is still having pain and that her improvement is not coming “nearly as fast as we thought it would.”

Michigan leads the Big Ten Conference in field goal percentage (.485) and the Wolverines are second in 3-point field goals per game (7.0) and 3-point field goal percentage (49 of 126, 38.9 percent).

“I can’t believe we’re sitting here in the first week of December talking about Big Ten play. It’s pretty unusual, but we’re going to have to prepare rather quickly to open up Big Ten against a good team.”
UI head coach Lisa Bluder

“Michigan is a much-improved team this year,” Bluder said. “They are playing very good basketball. This is a team playing a lot better defense than it did last year and offensively, it’s a team that’s putting up a lot of baskets.”

One of the best success stories for the Hawkeyes so far this season has been the development of the freshman class. Center Morgan Johnson and guard Jaime Printy have started all eight games; guard Theairra Taylor has started four games. Printy is averaging 12.1 points, 6 rebounds and a team-high 4.4 assists per game. She has made all 14 free throw attempts. Johnson is averaging 10.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game and has been successful on half of her 66 field goal attempts. Johnson leads the Hawkeyes with 17 blocked shots. Taylor contributes 8.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.

“I don’t think any of our freshmen really look like freshmen out there,” Bluder said. “That’s a compliment to those women because they’re playing with a different maturity. Nobody else in the Big Ten is getting that kind of experience for their freshmen and that’s going to bode well for us in the future.”

Future could mean years down the road or weeks down the road.

“It’s going to be great for us in the long run,” Alexander said. “They’re not freshmen anymore. Our freshmen worked hard in the preseason and asked questions because they wanted to know and they wanted to learn — and they did learn. They have contributed so much to this team and they’re great players anyway.”

The other freshmen, Trisha Nesbitt and Machado, are averaging 13.9 and 9 minutes of court time per outing. Machado averages 4.4 points and 3.4 rebounds; Nesbitt has scored 18 points with 10 assists.

With a shallow bench, Bluder has been keeping a keen eye on playing time as well as practice time.

“We are definitely cutting back and really trying to get their focus,” Bluder said. “We’re backing off because of the amount of minutes they have to play in a game and we’re saving their legs.”

Bluder revealed that the Hawkeyes did not take the court at all Thursday. Instead, they watched film and lifted weights. Practice on Friday was limited to 1 hour, 50 minutes after stretching, compared to a typical 2:45 to 3-hour session.

In 2010-11, the Big Ten is reverting back to a 16-game league schedule (instead of the current 18-game slate), bringing an end to the early-December conference clashes.

Following the game against Michigan, Iowa will travel to Iowa State on Thursday, Dec. 10, with a 7 p.m. tip. That game is part of the Hy-Vee Cy-Hawk Series.