Feb. 28, 2012
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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 — The University of Iowa women’s basketball team’s first trip to Nebraska for a Big Ten Conference game was one to forget. The Hawkeyes fell behind early, fought back late, but ultimately dropped a 60-53 decision and stood at 3-5 in the Big Ten standings. Eight games and 33 days later, the Hawkeyes are the hottest team in the conference.
Iowa has reeled off eight-straight wins since that tough loss in Lincoln and finished in a four-way tie for second place in the Big Ten Conference with an 11-5 record, and will be the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Oh by the way, Iowa also lost its All-American guard and leading scorer, Jaime Printy, to an ACL injury two games into the winning streak.
Iowa earned its way into a first round bye in this week’s Big Ten Tournament and almost assured itself of a fifth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance. Bluder has a hard time describing what the final eight games of the season felt like.
“We always stress to really just take it one game at a time,” said UI head coach Lisa Bluder. “We are still living that right now, but it’s hard to put into context what this eight-game stretch has meant to our team. When you think about the fact that we lost our leading scorer at the beginning of the streak and we are starting two freshmen, it makes it even more special.”
Special is one way to describe it. Record breaking could be another.
Iowa’s eight-straight wins to close the regular season is the longest streak since 1989-90, when the Hawkeyes finished on a nine-game winning streak. The only other Iowa team to win eight or more games to close a regular season was in 1986-87 (11-straight wins).
Bluder believes the experiences her team went through during the 2009-10 season have helped this year’s squad close so well.
Iowa lost its lone senior, JoAnn Hamlin, for the entire season with a life-threatening blood clot. Kachine Alexander, who would eventually earn All-America honors, missed seven games with a stress fracture. The Hawkeyes sat at 1-6 in the conference, but finished with a 10-8 record to earn the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
“A lot of these players were a part of that experience, and they are feeding off it now,” Bluder said. “Those players knew they had done it before and that they could do it again.”
The Hawkeyes turned what could have been a rough ending into a fairy tale script. Iowa’s 11 conference wins are the most since 2001-02 and the fourth-most in school history (during a 16-game conference schedule).
This is the fifth-straight year that Iowa has received a top-four seed in the Big Ten Tournament and is the ninth time in Bluder’s 12 years she has guided her team to an upper division finish in the highly-competitive Big Ten.
“Our confidence is at an all-time high right now,” Bluder said. “I can’t think of a better time to be heading into postseason play. So much of athletics is confidence, and we feel very good about the way we are playing, and we are having fun on the court. We are working hard and now the team is seeing the results of that hard work. That is motivating them even more.”
From 3-5 in the conference and a long-shot to make the NCAA Tournament to 11-5 and the most dangerous team in the league. That’s a pretty impressive turnaround.
“I really don’t think something like we are going through is very common today,” Bluder said. “We dealt with a lot of adversity this year and everyone rose to the occasion. This is an extraordinary group of young women, and we feel blessed to be able to coach them.
“We want to keep this streak going so we can coach this group as long as possible.”