Nov. 12, 2011
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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — There aren’t many early-season basketball tournaments where the host plays one of the toughest opponents in the first round. Then again, there aren’t many women’s basketball programs on a roll like the University of Iowa is right now.
This weekend’s 26th annual Hawkeye Challenge boasts three teams coming off winning records: Iowa (22-9) of the Big Ten Conference, Butler (20-14) of the Horizon League and Harvard (18-10) of the Ivy League. The other participant is the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, which was 11-20 last season. Instead of playing the logical first-round choice on paper, Iowa selected a Harvard team that returns three All-Ivy League performers.
“I want to play against the best RPI (ratings percentage index) teams,” UI head coach Lisa Bluder said. “That helps us with our seed at the end of the year. I know it sounds silly and people may not understand it, but we want to play against a good team, and we have confidence in our team on the home court, too.”
The Hawkeyes and Crimson tip off at approximately 7 p.m. (CT) this evening, moments after the Butler-UNLV game.
Iowa has won 20 Hawkeye Challenge championships and has compiled an overall record of 45-5 in the history of the tournament. Bluder is proud of the Hawkeye Challenge, one of the oldest and most prestigious early-season events on the NCAA women’s basketball calendar.
“It will be difficult because it’s our first real game and then we have two of them two days in a row. There isn’t much time to prepare for the second one, but the upperclassmen have done it the past few years, so it’s something we’re used to and we’ll be just fine.”
Junior guard Jaime Printy
“I think we have a good reputation out there for how we treat our competition and the fan support we have,” Bluder said. “We do try to get teams that are good caliber that can come in from farther distance. We’re more likely to do that because they get two games in this weekend, they aren’t just coming in for one game.”
Having a quick turnaround for the second opponent is reality for these season-opening tournaments. Regardless of Iowa’s result against Harvard, the Hawkeyes play their second game 19 ½ hours later…at 2:30 p.m. (CT) on Sunday.
That means little preparation and wobbly legs.
“It will be difficult because it’s our first real game and then we have two of them two days in a row,” junior guard Jaime Printy said. “There isn’t much time to prepare for the second one, but the upperclassmen have done it the past few years, so it’s something we’re used to and we’ll be just fine.”
“We’re excited to play some games, like always,” junior center Morgan Johnson said. “But two games in two days is a lot, so after the first one is done, we have to immediately start resting, recuperating and getting ready for the next one.”
This weekend is much more than the first two games of the season for the Hawkeyes; there will also be “some tremendous recruits on campus,” and Bluder doesn’t anticipate much shut-eye for her or her staff.
“I don’t think we’re going to sleep this weekend,” Bluder may or may not have joked. “It’s going to be a busy weekend for us. We’re going to juggle it all.”
With five first-year players on the roster, Bluder’s biggest challenge is pregame preparation — especially on defense.
“We give a thorough scouting report and time to walk through things in practice and show them on film,” Bluder said. “Later in the year, OK, they’ve done it a million times. But now freshmen are still learning the terminology, so I think it makes it a little bit more difficult.”
If the opportunity presents tonight, Bluder will show off the Hawkeyes’ deep bench in an attempt to “free up” minutes and keep the top seven players in the rotation as fresh as possible for Sunday. But Iowa is one of four teams facing preparation and physical endurance concerns.
“The other teams have the same disadvantage,” Bluder said. “I don’t get too caught up in that because it’s equal for all teams.”
Iowa has won six straight times in the Hawkeye Challenge, and under Bluder, the Hawkeyes have compiled a record of 19-3 with eight championships