Physical Matchup in Store in East Lansing

Jan. 15, 2013

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The bye week came at a good time for the University of Iowa women’s basketball team with a road date at Michigan State and a matchup against No. 11/12 Purdue on the horizon.

“This is a big week for us,” said senior Jaime Printy. “It was a good time for us to have a bye week. We got a head start on Michigan State and got two days off, which was nice to get away from everything and come back refocused.”

The Hawkeyes face the Spartans at 5 p.m. (CT) on Thursday in East Lansing, Mich. Iowa has won four of the last five meetings in the series, but the team hasn’t won in the Breslin Center since Feb. 1, 2004, winning 78-67.

“We’ve had some good success against them the last few years, but only one has been in East Lansing,” UI head coach Lisa Bluder said during a Tuesday news conference in the Media Room inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “We haven’t won there in a while, and this game is important because this is our solo meeting with them.”

“They’re an excellent rebounding team. They’re +15 in three Big Ten games, and I tried to stress that to our team today. We have to be disciplined to take that advantage away from them and really do a good job on the boards. That’s going to be a key to this game.”
UI head coach Lisa Bluder on the key to Thursday’s matchup against Michigan State

The Spartans bring a 14-2 overall and 2-1 Big Ten record into the matchup. Michigan State ran off eight consecutive wins to start the season before falling at No. 18 Dayton, 60-53, on Dec. 8. The squad then won five-in-a-row before losing 76-55 to No. 9 Penn State on Jan. 6.

“They’ve been hit with a lot of injuries, but they’re still an unbelievable team,” said Bluder. “They’re a team that is very balanced. You can’t worry about one person because somebody else is going to step up and have a stellar night, and those are the teams that are hard to defend.”

Three Michigan State players average in double figures for the season and seven players average at least 7.3 points per contest. Junior guard Klarissa Bell is leading the team with a 12.3 point average, while Courtney Schiffauer leads the squad with 7.2 rebounds.

Six Spartan players average 4.5 boards per contest in helping Michigan State post a +10.5 overall rebounding margin and that number jumps to +14.9 in Big Ten games.

“They’re an excellent rebounding team,” said Bluder. “They’re +15 in three Big Ten games, and I tried to stress that to our team today. We have to be disciplined to take that advantage away from them and really do a good job on the boards. That’s going to be a key to this game.”

After struggling against the zone in the first half of the 65-56 road victory at Wisconsin on Jan. 10, Bluder feels confident that the Hawkeyes are turning the corner against the defensive style.

“The second half of Wisconsin, we did pretty well against the zone,” said Bluder. “We’re getting more used to it now, and we were able to spend some time practicing against that last week. I think we’ll be more prepared and ready to go. We have a little more confidence to break it.”

After six players accounted for 187 of the 200 minutes in the road win in Madison, Bluder says the coaching staff needs to focus on utilizing the team’s deep bench.

“We need to do a better job of getting Kathy Thomas in the game,” said Bluder. “It’s not that Kathy is doing anything wrong, it’s just that Sam (Samantha Logic) is playing so well. Melissa Dixon is also getting a lot of playing time, but I would have the same argument for Trisha Nesbitt. Trisha is playing the best basketball of her career right now.

“Right now we’re deeper than we’ve ever been, and in a normal year that wouldn’t happen. It’s like a blessing.”

Thursday will be a homecoming for Thomas. The sophomore guard returns to Flint, Mich., to face the Spartans and former high school teammate Jasmine Thomas.

“Kathy will be so anxious to get into this game,” said Bluder. “She’s going to give us full effort. If we ask her to get a drink of water, she’ll probably sprint to the end of the bench to grab that drink of water. She’s going to be so geeked about being at home.”

Bluder enters the game with a milestone in sight, as she is currently sitting at 599 career victories. A win over the Spartans would give the 13th-year Iowa head coach 600 victories. She will be the 42nd coach in NCAA history (all divisions) to reach the mark and the 25th Division I head coach.

Thursday’s game will be televised on the Big Ten Network beginning at 5 p.m. (CT) with Lisa Byington and LaChina Robinson calling the action.