Oct. 15, 2015
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By DARREN MILLER
CHICAGO — New season, new look.
A University of Iowa women’s basketball program that has made eight consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances will look different after losing three starters from a year ago, but Hawkeye head coach Lisa Bluder won’t concede anything in 2015-16.
“We have a different look and a lot of people are kind of counting us out because of that,” Bluder said Thursday at Big Ten Conference Women’s Basketball Media Day at Chicago Marriott O’Hare. “I would have to disagree with that because we return quite a bit, actually.”
First, there is junior Ally Disterhoft, chosen as preseason All-Big Ten by coaches. Last season Disterhoft shared team-leading scoring honors with Melissa Dixon by pouring in 503 points (14.8 points per game). She pulled down 5.9 rebounds per game and went to the free throw line more than five times a game.
A second returning starter is sophomore point guard Whitney Jennings. In her first collegiate season, Jennings started 31 of 34 games, averaged 9.1 points and 2.7 assists per game.
“She did an exceptional job and she is ready to move into a bigger role,” Bluder said. “As a sophomore with more experience she is ready to lead this team as our point guard.”
Senior “sixth player” Kali Peschel — a team co-captain along with Disterhoft — played all 34 games and started three times last season (and 19 times as a sophomore in 2014-15). Peschel, who shot 43.4 percent from 3-point range, finished strong and scored 12 points during a Sweet 16 matchup against Baylor.
“I can have three point guards on the floor at the same time. I can have a point guard and three power forwards on the floor at the same time. We just have the best players. We don’t run sets, we run an offense. And with that, it gives us the luxury of having the best players on the floor regardless of position.”
UI basaketball coach
Other returning letterwinners are seniors Claire Till (forward) and Nicole Smith (center), juniors Alexa Kastanek (guard) and Hailey Scheden (forward), and sophomores Christina Buttenham (forward) and Carly Mohns (forward).
“We have some good, good elements to work with,” Bluder said.
Bluder said an 11-day tour to Italy, where the Hawkeyes played three games, came at “absolutely the best time.”
“With eight freshmen and sophomores on our team, we just need experience,” Bluder said. “We have talent, we just need experience and repetition.”
On Wednesday, Bluder said her team completed its ninth practice of the preseason, but because of the Italy trip, it was actually the 19th practice.
“That’s a big difference,” Bluder said. “That puts us ahead of the curve. Those 10 (summer) practice days were valuable.”
Iowa’s senior class of 2015 was the most proficient scoring trio in Big Ten women’s basketball history. Bluder reiterated that losing scoring doesn’t mean a loss of intensity.
“It’s something that is part of our culture,” she said. “It’s something we don’t have to recreate. You have a culture that you establish in your program that continues to roll.”
Another thing that doesn’t worry Bluder is pigeonholing players by position on the court. The Hawkeyes embrace “positionless basketball” that will allow, for example, point guards Jennings and Davis to be on the court simultaneously.
“I can have three point guards on the floor at the same time. I can have a point guard and three power forwards on the floor at the same time,” Bluder said. “We just have the best players. We don’t run sets, we run an offense. And with that, it gives us the luxury of having the best players on the floor regardless of position.”
Iowa opens the season Nov. 8 with an exhibition game against Upper Iowa at 2 p.m. (CT) on Mediacom Court inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The first regular season game is Nov. 13 at home against North Dakota.