Bluder’s Bunch faces Lavender, Buckeyes


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Iowa freshman Morgan Johnson has already competed against a bevy of elite post players this season.

But her next matchup — against Ohio State’s Jantel Lavender — may be her most imposing challenge yet.

The youngster and the Hawkeyes (11-10, 4-6) will head into Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio, to take on Lavender and the No. 8 Buckeyes (21-3, 9-2) at 6:30 p.m. today. The game will be televised live on the Big Ten Network.

Johnson is coming off a solid performance. The Platte City, Mo., native posted 16 points and collected 11 rebounds in Iowa’s 70-50 victory over Purdue on Sunday. Her performance was good enough to earn her first selection as Big Ten Freshman of the Week.

However, Johnson collects the honor entering a week that Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said might be Johnson’s “biggest challenge of the year” on Tuesday.

After tonight’s matchup against Associated Press preseason All-American Lavender, she will face a battle with 6-9 Allyssa DeHaan of Michigan State.

Bluder said it may be difficult, but Johnson “never backs down.”

“She is always a person who has met every challenge, and she’s gone against some great posts already … and not once has she backed down,” she said. “I expect that trend to continue and that she’ll do a good job for us this week.”

Johnson, who has started all 21 games of her Hawkeye career thus far, comes in averaging 9.5 points and 7.2 rebounds. Lavender is making a strong case for postseason awards.

The 6-4 junior is the Big Ten’s leading scorer, averaging 21.0 points per game. Her 10.5 boards a game also slot her as the conference’s second-best rebounder.

“I’m definitely excited about this opportunity,” Johnson said on Tuesday. “Playing against that kind of level of competition all season has just made me grow as a player. I know I’m a lot better than I was at the beginning of the season.”

Not only is she much improved, but the play and confidence of the Hawkeyes might be at its highest level of the year as well.

After losing four-straight games — including road losses at Michigan on Jan. 7 and at Purdue on Jan. 17 by a combined 39 points — Iowa has won a season-high three games in a row.

At the same time, the Buckeyes’ confidence may be dipping after losing two out of their last three games.

Ohio State started the season 20-1 overall, 8-0 in the Big Ten, but losses by a combined seven points at Purdue on Jan. 25 and at Indiana on Jan. 31 suddenly have the Buckeyes clinging to a two-game lead in the conference.

Still, Bluder saw what Ohio State did following the Purdue loss — an 81-58 crushing of Minnesota in Columbus on Jan. 28 — and knows head coach Jim Foster will have his team ready to play.

“We probably couldn’t catch them at a worse time in my mind,” Bluder said. “I think we’re going into a hornets’ nest a little bit. They’re undefeated on the entire season at home. I’m sure Jim will have their full attention this week and having them mad as hornets playing against us.”

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