Women hoopsters aiming high in tourney

BY EVELYN LAU | MARCH 05, 2010 7:30 AM

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The Iowa women’s basketball team won when it mattered most this season.

By winning its final two regular-season games — the second a 68-60 overtime thriller at Wisconsin on Sunday — the Hawkeyes clinched the No. 3 spot in the Big Ten standings and tourney. The victory also gave the Hawkeyes a first-round bye in this weekend’s tournament in Indianapolis.

The Hawkeyes will play No. 6 Penn State at 1 p.m. today in Conseco Field House.

Marred by injury and inconsistency, Iowa started a miserable 1-6 in conference play, then won nine of its last 11 games to finish 10-8 in the Big Ten, 17-12 overall.

Head coach Lisa Bluder, named Big Ten Coach of the Year by the media on Monday, commended her team for the late-season run.

“It just shows you the power of positive thinking with our players,” the 10th-year coach said. “We’re thankful to be in this position where we are. We’re happy that we’re here, but we certainly aren’t ready to quit. We want to keep going here. We want to have a great Big Ten Tournament this week.”

The Hawkeyes know their chances of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament will increase the deeper they go in the conference tourney.

The Nittany Lions swept Iowa with two victories by a combined 10 points.

“If we get one win, I think it will help,” sophomore Kamille Wahlin said. “But I think we need to do really, really well in the Big Ten Tournament. Hopefully, if we don’t win it, we get into the championship. … I’m not really sure how that will all work. We just have to go in with a mindset of just competing and just doing our best.”

But for many of the players, including Big Ten Freshman of the Year Jaime Printy and All-Big Ten selection Kachine Alexander, their hot streak has renewed their confidence for the tournament.

Printy, who started all 29 of Iowa’s games, averages 15 points, and she broke the school’s freshman scoring (436 points) and 3-pointer (71) records. Alexander averages a double-double (15.5 points and 11.1 rebounds).

“We have been literally almost beating people or right there,” Alexander said. “Michigan and Penn State are our only real setbacks. But that was when we weren’t really feeling each other yet. I believe, like I said, there’s going to be some shocks this year with the Big Ten. I don’t think anybody knows where it’s going to go.”

Boasting the youngest starting lineup in the conference with two freshmen, two sophomores, and a junior, Iowa’s inexorable march up the Big Ten standings has been noticed by other coaches around the league.

“They’re a really good team with young players,” Wisconsin head coach Lisa Stone said. “Jaime Printy, she’s very, very special as a young player. Kachine’s leadership and the way she plays, I respect a great deal. She’s a great player, but you can tell she’s just an emotional leader for her team. They’re really, really good, and they’re playing great basketball right now.”

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