Nov. 23, 2015
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By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Turkey, stuffing, and gravy will be replaced by Wright State, George Washington, and Houston for the No. 23 University of Iowa women’s basketball that will spend Thanksgiving weekend at the Lone Star Showcase in Austin, Texas.
Instead of huddling with family around the dining room table, the undefeated Hawkeyes (4-0) will huddle with teammates at Cedar Park Center.
“It is bittersweet, but my team is like my family,” said UI junior captain Ally Disterhoft, who leads the Hawkeyes with a 16.8 scoring average. “If I wasn’t going to be with my immediate family, my team is who I would be with.”
Ten of the 14 UI players know what it’s like to dribble, shoot, and rebound on the road for Thanksgiving. It will be a new experience for members of the freshman class.
“You’re always worried about your freshmen in these situations for the first time,” UI head coach Lisa Bluder said Monday at a news conference in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “We stress that we are a family; we eat meals together, we will celebrate Thanksgiving together — probably not the most traditional way — but we will do that Wednesday night and recognize what we’re thankful for.
“This team gets along so well it makes traveling easier and it makes being away from home easier because they enjoy being around each other.”
Typically, the annual Thanksgiving tournament is where the Hawkeyes experience the stiffest resistance of the nonconference season. Last season Iowa lost its first game to Arkansas in the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout. Only once in the last four years have the Hawkeyes emerged from Thanksgiving break games without a loss.
“We may have to use our bench more, but at the same time, the goal has to be to win the game. You can’t be so worried about the fatigue of your players so much that you don’t win the game. You have to do what is right to win the game.”
UI basketball coach
They take on Wright State (3-1) on Thanksgiving at 11 a.m. (CT), No. 20 George Washington (2-1) on Nov. 27 at 1:30 p.m., and Houston (1-2) on Nov. 2 at 11 a.m.
“We have a lot of growth to do, but I’m happy where we’re sitting right now,” Bluder said. “It is going to be challenging playing three games in three days.”
Competing so often within a 72-hour span doesn’t mean the Hawkeyes will empty their bench. Bluder said the primary goal is winning.
“We may have to use our bench more, but at the same time, the goal has to be to win the game,” Bluder said. “You can’t be so worried about the fatigue of your players so much that you don’t win the game. You have to do what is right to win the game.”
At the same time, Iowa is receiving production in many areas. That was visible Sunday when junior Alexa Kastanek made all eight of her field goal attempts and finished with a team-high 22 points during an 80-65 win at Northern Iowa. Sophomore center Chase Coley tallied 16 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, and four blocked shots. This is the first season that Kastanek and Coley have been in the starting lineup.
“I love playing in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, but road games are fun,” Coley said. “You get to go to the hotel, hang out with teammates, and you get to know everyone better because you’re always together. I feel I have improved my game and grown as a player and I was excited to show everyone what I have been working on this offseason.”
After four games, Kastanek is second on the team with a 12.3 scoring average and first with 10 made 3-point field goals.
Kastanek is the fourth different player to lead the Hawkeyes in scoring after four games. Disterhoft scored 20 in the opener against North Dakota, freshman Tania Davis had 12 in the second game against Tennessee-Martin, and freshman Megan Gustafson had 23 in the third game against Western Illinois.
“I like how different people have stepped up over the course of these past four games, that illustrates the depth we have on this team,” Disterhoft said. “Any given night Lex can step up and hit shots, Chase, Megan, Tania, (senior) Kali (Peschel), (sophomore) Whitney (Jennings). The list goes on and on. It is being able to bring that together at the same time — get five people in double figures, get everyone contributing offensively and defensively. We’re still a young team and we will get that figured out.”
Bluder describes the 2015-16 UI team as having two really good point guards, two really good centers, and several people making contributions and the 2-3-4 positions, including sophomores Christina Buttenham and Carly Mohns. Bluder said she would also like to get senior Claire Till on the court more, but “it’s hard to go much beyond nine players.”
There won’t be much time for the Hawkeyes to rest when they return from Texas. On Wednesday, Dec. 2, they play at Virginia in the B1G/ACC Challenge in Charlottesville, Virginia.