Bluder’s Bunch captures Hawkeye Challenge


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Kamille Wahlin was just 5-of-12 from the floor in Sunday’s KCRG-TV9 Hawkeye Challenge championship game.

But Wahlin’s crunch-time resolve helped propel the Iowa women’s basketball team (2-0) to a 75-67 victory over Illinois State (1-1) — the third time in the last four years Iowa has won the Hawkeye Challenge.

Two of the 5-8 sophomore’s buckets were among the most significant of the afternoon.

The first came in the closing minutes of the first half. An 8-3 “mini-run” by Illinois State turned what had been a seven-point Iowa lead at 30-23 into a two-point Hawkeye advantage.

Iowa stumbled into a broken play, and Wahlin found herself with the ball in her hands. With the clock ticking, the Crookston, Minn., native launched a deep bomb from NBA-range.

The result? Three points and a 36-31 halftime score in Iowa’s favor.

However, the Redbirds wrestled the lead from the Hawkeyes in the second half, taking a 52-51 edge with 11:37 remaining. Illinois State clung to its lead until a block from Iowa junior Kachine Alexander forced a Redbird shot-clock violation.

With 3:46 to go, Wahlin again dialed from long distance and connected, giving Iowa a 64-63 advantage. The Hawkeyes did not surrender the lead for the remainder of the contest.

“Throughout the game, I wasn’t in a particularly good rhythm,” said Wahlin, whose efforts earned her a spot on the Hawkeye Challenge all-tournament team. “But when it comes down to the stretch, you just have to put that behind you.”

Iowa had to put other struggles behind it all afternoon.

Illinois State’s senior center, Nicolle Lewis, scored 12 points in the first half. Lewis’s inside scoring pushed Iowa to switch to a 2-3 zone, an adjustment that helped hold Lewis to only two points in the final nine minutes of the first half.

Iowa utilized a similar zone scheme midway through the second stanza, but it wasn’t nearly so successful. Head coach Lisa Bluder’s squad instead had to rely upon a man-to-man look to battle its way back.

And from the 6:18 mark to 1:05 in the second half, Illinois State did not score a point.

“I thought we intensified at that point,” Bluder said. “You’re down five, there’s six minutes left to go. That’s when you just — you have a day off tomorrow — and you just play as hard as you can. I thought our kids did that.”

With the Redbird offense locked down, “Bluder’s Bunch” sealed its victory at the free-throw line.

While the Hawkeyes shot just five freebies in the first half, their 17-of-25 second-half performance from the charity stripe was a key ingredient in the win.

“That’s part of our scheme,” Bluder said. “We want to get to the rim, but we’ll take the foul. We feel very confident with our free-throw shooters, and that’s part of what we’re trying to accomplish with our offense.”

Iowa will look to extend its record to 3-0 on Wednesday, when the Hawkeyes will host No. 20 Kansas (1-0) at 7 p.m. in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

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