Feb. 17, 2010
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Kachine Alexander knew she was in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday, but don’t ask where the University of Iowa women’s basketball team currently rests on the Big Ten Conference standings board.
“Where are we?” Alexander quizzed a member of the media that gathered following UI head coach Lisa Bluder’s press conference.
“Fifth,” was the reply.
“Oh, that’s a big jump,” Alexander said. “I had no idea. I don’t even know exactly who’s ahead of us. We go day-by-day. Today we’ll look at Minnesota and of course Saturday we’ll be looking at Northwestern.”
It isn’t that Alexander or her teammates are apathetic about what’s happening in the league; it’s just that now isn’t the time for those worries.
“I really don’t care,” Alexander said. “We’re so connected as a group and a family that we really don’t care about any outside things. That’s why we’re so focused now.”
Iowa has won six of its last seven games with four straight wins in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. That surge has lifted the Hawkeyes to three games above .500 at 14-11 overall, 7-7 in the Big Ten. They will host Minnesota (12-13, 5-9) tomorrow (Thursday, Feb. 18) with a 7:30 p.m. tip. The Gophers won the first meeting, 72-69 in overtime, Jan. 3 in Minneapolis.
“We’re anxious to play them again,” Bluder said. “We feel like we’re playing a little bit better than that. We were up, we could have won. It seems like Minnesota is always a battle. I think the team’s more excited about playing Minnesota than moving up in the standings. I don’t even know if they know very much about the standings and moving up.”
The Hawkeyes are in fifth place, 1 ½ games out of second and a game out of third.
“It’s always fun to play Minnesota, but I think this game is just as important as any other game in the Big Ten Conference,” Wahlin said. “You have to take every team seriously and you can’t get over-hyped for one game or the other.”
“My staff has done a great job this year as far as staying positive and staying focused at the task at hand. Even when we were going through some of the harder times with our season, this was a great group of women to coach. This may not be the most successful team that we’ve coached, but it might be one of the more enjoyable teams that we’ve coached.”
UI head coach Lisa Bluder
“They’re excited to play against their home state,” Bluder said. “I know they were disappointed after the last one, so they’re excited about the opportunity to play them again. It revs you up a little more. There are a lot of personal ties to this game.”
For Alexander, the “hometown matchup” adds more incentive, and if history repeats, she expects a close final score. Six of the last eight meetings between the Hawkeyes and Gophers have been decided by six points or less. There have been two three-point margins and three games decided by two points.
Iowa returns to Carver-Hawkeye Arena where it has gone 10-4 this season and 5-2 against league competition.
“It is important to use the home court advantage and play well on our home court and I think the players have bought into it,” Bluder said. “Some of those things are hard for a young team to understand. We’ve really had to try to educate our younger players on what it really means to play in Carver-Hawkeye Arena and how important it is for our fans to see us win and to play well and use that energy.”
The Hawkeyes have won their last four games at home: 78-69 against Northwestern, 70-50 against Purdue, 77-66 against Michigan State and 77-67 against Illinois.
“You have to protect your home court in Big Ten games,” Alexander said. “That’s very important.”
Following the game Thursday, Iowa travels to face Northwestern (14-11, 5-9) in Evanston, Ill. The Hawkeyes came out on top in the first round of the season series Jan. 24. Iowa looks to improve to 6-0 while wearing its home, pink uniforms (the Wildcat pink uniforms are a visiting dark).
“Northwestern is not the team of old where you could kind of pencil in that road victory,” Bluder said. “They’re winning a lot of games on their home floor.”
The youth and injury difficulties with the 2009-10 Hawkeye team have been well documented. Still, Iowa is .500 in the league and chasing a berth to the NCAA tournament for a third consecutive time. Could this be the finest coaching job for Bluder and assistants Jan Jensen, Jenni Fitzgerald and Shannon Gage?
“My staff has done a great job this year as far as staying positive and staying focused at the task at hand,” Bluder said. “Even when we were going through some of the harder times with our season, this was a great group of women to coach. This may not be the most successful team that we’ve coached, but it might be one of the more enjoyable teams that we’ve coached.”