Feb. 2, 2010
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Three days after being named Big Ten Conference freshman of the week, University of Iowa post Morgan Johnson will begin the toughest two-game stretch of her brief collegiate career.
The Hawkeyes (11-10 overall, 4-6 Big Ten), who are one game from finding themselves in the top-half of the league standings, play at No. 8 Ohio State on Thursday before returning to host Michigan State on Sunday.
“This is pretty special to have her first opportunity to be named freshman of the week,” UI head coach Lisa Bluder said Tuesday at a media conference inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “Her job doesn’t get any easier, though. This week might be her biggest challenge of the year; going against one of the best posts in America in (Ohio State’s) Jantel Lavender and after that, going up against the tallest post in our conference in (Michigan State’s) Allyssa DeHaan, who stands at 6-foot-9.”
The Buckeyes are 21-3 overall, 9-2 in the conference; Michigan State is 14-7, 5-5. Ohio State has dropped two of its last three games with road losses at Purdue and Indiana sandwiched around a 23-point victory against Minnesota at home.
“We probably couldn’t catch them at a worse time,” Bluder said. “I think we’re going into a hornet’s nest. They’re 16-0 at home and I’m sure (Buckeye head coach) Jim (Foster) will have their full attention this week and have them mad as hornets playing against us.”
The Buckeyes have won eight straight games in the series at Columbus. The teams did not play at Ohio State a year ago. Tipoff on Thursday from Value City Arena is 6:30 p.m. (Iowa time).
“It’s very tough to play there,” Bluder said. “I’ve never experienced a win there. It’s tough, but it’s also the beauty of having a young group. Our freshmen and sophomores have never played in Columbus. Sometimes being naïve is a little bit of a good thing and not having the past experience to draw on.”
Johnson is one of the Hawkeye youngsters beginning to emerge. During Iowa’s three-game winning streak, she averaged 12.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. On Jan. 31 against Purdue, Johnson scored 16 points with 11 rebounds.
“I’m very excited (to face Lavender),” Johnson said. “I can’t wait to get out there and play. I think it’s a really good opportunity for our team and especially for me to go out there and play against the best of the best.”
Bluder referred to the Buckeyes as the “anointed ones” in the league this season. She said Ohio State has one of the best two-person games around.
“They have incredible ability on their basketball team and a great home-court advantage,” Bluder said. “Jantel and (point guard) Sammy Prahalis are an incredible duo. They are pretty unstoppable and they will definitely test our defense.”
It will be 18 days since the Hawkeyes last tasted defeat (at Purdue on Jan. 17). The Hawkeyes are 3-0 since that game, including its lone conference road win at Illinois (75-64 on Jan. 21).
“We are on a good confidence roll right now,” Bluder said. “This is a good time for us to get (Ohio State) as well.”
When the Hawkeyes return to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, they will see a lot of black, gold…and pink. It will be the annual “Think Pink” game in an attempt to bring awareness to breast cancer. Iowa and the Spartans will begin at 3:30 p.m.
“This is a tough week looking at the schedule at the beginning of the year,” Bluder said. “This is not an easy schedule this week by any means.”