Oct. 11, 2010
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- Iowa and the Big Ten Network
- Big Ten Network: Free Hawkeye Video
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — By switching from an 18-game to a 16-game schedule, Big Ten Conference women’s basketball teams will spend less time beating up on each other. With nine returning letterwinners and five returning starters, the University of Iowa players promise to thump on each other enough anyway.
“It brings a lot of competition to practice, because nobody really knows who is going to start,” UI head coach Lisa Bluder said Monday at a media day press conference inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “Everybody looks at that group we had returning, and that’s not set. I just think it brings great competition to practice. It’s going to be make us coaches really have to think more on the bench. It’s not like look at one person. You rotate in now. We’ll have to make some good decisions and work with that. Everybody’s going to have to understand their role on this team, and it might change as the year goes on.”
After playing an 18-game league schedule the past three seasons, the Big Ten will go back to playing 16 games. In 2010-11, the Hawkeyes play Penn State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan State, Indiana and Illinois twice and Michigan (home), Purdue (away), Northwestern (away) and Wisconsin (home) only once.
“The most important thing is we’re not beating up on each other, but it also gets rid of that early game when you’re still getting your team ready and playing a Big Ten game in the beginning of December,” Bluder said. “I didn’t like that. I think it was a good move to go back to 16 games.”
This is one of the most anticipated women’s basketball seasons at Iowa in several years. The Hawkeyes are coming off three consecutive 20-win and NCAA Tournament seasons and nearly the entire roster is intact. Iowa added junior college transfer Kalli Hansen from Olin, Iowa, and freshman Jade Rogers from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“Jade Rogers is our only freshman; we expect her to play the three or four position this year,” Bluder said. “But coming out of high school, that learning curve is pretty steep right off the bat. We have another newcomer, Kalli Hansen from Kirkwood Community College. She won national championships both freshman and sophomore years. She was a junior college All American, and I think she’s really going to be somebody that people are impressed with. Kalli will see immediate playing time. She’s a good player. She’s strong, she’s fast, she’s versatile, and she’s somebody that we’re very excited about that can add a new dimension to our basketball team this year.”
The Hawkeyes have compiled a record of 62-36 the last three seasons, including 36 wins in the Big Ten. Last season Iowa finished 20-14 and its top six scorers return, led by senior All-American and first-team all-Big Ten performer Kachine Alexander (16 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists). Also back are sophomore Jaime Printy (14.7 ppg, 88.3 free throw percentage), junior Kamille Wahlin (14.2 ppg, 3.2 apg, 84 3-pointers), junior Kelly Krei (8.7 ppg, 40.4 3-point percentage), sophomore Morgan Johnson (8.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 2.3 blocks per game) and sophomore Theairra Taylor (8.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg).
Printy was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Wahlin was third-team all-Big Ten.
Alexander missed seven games because of injury and Taylor sat out the final 24. Sophomore Hannah Draxten is also back after missing all but four games in 2009-10 with a back injury. As a freshman, Draxten played in 30 games and averaged 13.4 minutes per outing.
“It’s nice to have that extra depth with those players,” Bluder said.
There were times last season when, on paper, the Hawkeyes should have dropped games they eventually won, Bluder acknowledged. The key is that the Iowa players bought into a team chemistry based on values and sacrifice.
“Last year we were able to sneak up on a couple of people with everybody assuming that we lost most of our lineup to graduation,” Bluder said. “This year I don’t think we’ll be sneaking up on anybody. I think we’ll have a target on our back this year, and we’ve tried to prepare our team for that.”
Iowa won 12 of its final 16 games last season and opened the NCAA Tournament with a 70-63 victory against Rutgers.
“It’s mostly just focusing more than we have in the past,” Alexander said of the high preseason expectations. “We’re playing from a different perspective now. We’re at the top and everyone knows who we are instead of playing from behind. It’s a big change in being up high and playing with a target on your back from being the underdog and not having anything to worry about. I think it’s just focusing, doing the little things right and keeping ourselves together no matter what the issue is.”
The Hawkeyes were 3-4 in Alexander’s absence a year ago.
Even with the large number of returners, Iowa still has a young team. Alexander and co-captain Kelsey Cermak are seniors, Hansen, Krie, Wahlin and Megan Considine are juniors, Draxten, Johnson, Printy, Taylor and Trisha Nesbitt are sophomores and Rogers is a freshman.
“We’re still relatively young,” Bluder said. “Last year they had that youthful enthusiasm, everything was new. I still feel that way with this team. They have a lot to learn.”
Bluder said that every great team needs a great point guard and the Hawkeyes have one in Wahlin. For her two-year career, Wahlin has averaged 11 points and 2.9 assists per game, while shooting better than 80 percent from the free throw line and 38.2 percent from 3-point range.
“Our expectation is to do better than we did last year, which means trying to win the Big Ten and go further in the NCAA and Sweet 16,” Wahlin said. “You don’t want to do the same as last year, you want to take that next step and get a step further than what you accomplished last year. Hopefully, our depth this season will help us even more.”
Iowa opens the season Sunday, Nov. 7, with an exhibition game against Concordia-St. Paul (Minn.) at 1 p.m. in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The first regular-season game is Friday, Nov. 12, against Southern at the Islander Tip-Off Tournament in Corpus Christi, Tex.