Jan. 20, 2015
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By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Three of the top five women’s basketball teams in the Big Ten Conference will grace Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday and Monday.
No. 18 University of Iowa (14-3 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) hosts Michigan (12-5, 4-2) on Jan. 22 and No. 15 Nebraska (14-3, 4-2) on Jan 26. Both the Hawkeyes and Michigan have four players averaging double figures in scoring; Nebraska has three.
So while Rachel Theriot of Nebraska, Melissa Dixon of Iowa, and Cyesha Goree of Michigan aim to lead their respective team’s point parade, a key in these games — and success for the remainder of the season — could involve players who begin the game on the bench.
The starting lineup for Nebraska has accounted for 83.7 percent of its points this season. Iowa’s starters provide 80.2 percent of its offense, and Michigan gets 65.9 percent of its points from the starting five — a number that is deceiving since Katelynn Flaherty averages 14.3 points and 26.6 minutes per game as a Wolverine reserve.
“There are 18 (conference) games and the Big Ten Tournament,” University of Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said Tuesday at a news conference in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “Deeper teams have the advantage. But you look around the Big Ten and it’s kind of strange, nobody is really deep. We would like to be that.”
The Hawkeyes received a huge boost off the bench from junior forward Kali Peschel on Sunday during a 52-50 win at Michigan State. Three times this season Peschel has played more than 20 minutes in a game, but two of those instances came as a starter. As a substitute against Iowa State on Dec. 11, Peschel logged 25 minutes, scoring 13 points with seven rebounds.
At Michigan State, Peschel played 22 minutes, grabbed seven rebounds, and converted 2-of-4 field goals.
“Our coach stresses the importance of accepting your role and playing that out to your best ability,” Peschel said. “She has pushed me to wanting to be that spark off the bench and coming in to get a rebound or make an open shot for our team. It’s huge and I love the role I am in right now. Any spot is just as important as a starting position.”
“There are 18 (conference) games and the Big Ten Tournament. Deeper teams have the advantage. But you look around the Big Ten and it’s kind of strange, nobody is really deep. We would like to be that.”
UI basketball coach
The seven rebounds by Peschel helped the Hawkeyes to a 41-38 advantage over the Spartans in that category. She scored four of Iowa’s seven bench points.
“Her minutes were huge in us winning,” Bluder said. “She did a great job defending, rebounding, and running our offense. Sometimes people come off the bench and think the only way they will be seen is by contributing offensively. Kali understands that what we need is defense, rebounding, and running the offense. If baskets happen, beautiful, but that is secondary.”
Two seasons ago Dixon was named Sixth Player of the Year in the Big Ten Conference. This year she leads the Hawkeyes with a 15.9-points per game scoring average and 67 3-point field goals.
“I was so thankful for any minute I got on the court,” Dixon said. “To bring that energy and spark was important for our team. It’s also important when you put other people in that you don’t lose anything. We still have that this year with bench players.”
Iowa, winner of three of its last four games on the road, returns home for the next two outings. The Hawkeyes are 10-0 this season inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“Those are the big-time tests we still have coming up,” Bluder said. “Our players are confident playing at home, they use our crowd, and our team believes in defending the home court. They are proud of Carver, they are proud of Iowa, and it means a lot to them to defend our home court.”
Iowa proved another point at Michigan State. The Hawkeyes have won games this season when they scored 107 and 100 points, they can also prevail by scoring 52.
“I love that. If you’re known just as an offensive team, the pressure can get on you a little bit,” Bluder said. “Sometimes the ball doesn’t fall in the hole. It’s good if that happens again this year that we don’t panic and I can go back to this game and remind them of that. It wasn’t the traditional way that we win games, but it is good to win in different ways.”
The next two Iowa women’s games will be televised to a national audience by BTN. Both games will tip off at 8 p.m. (CT).
“We know that’s hard for families, but hopefully we’ll have a decent crowd,” Bluder said.
Maryland is on top of the league with a record of 6-0. Iowa and Minnesota are 5-1, followed by Michigan and Nebraska at 4-2.