Iowa women's basketball team hosts Hawkeye Challenge


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Regardless of how many double-double games Kachine Alexander may get this season, she realizes the importance of team defense as the 2010-11 campaign progresses.

Alexander's 14 points and 10 rebounds in Tuesday's 91-53 win against Bradley might look nice on the score sheet, but her three steals were more valuable in head coach Lisa Bluder's mind. The All-American candidate led the Iowa women's basketball team to a total of 17 steals in that game — the highest total by the team since the 2005-06 season. That year, Iowa recorded 17 steals in its home-opener against Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Those lockdown defensive statistics have aided Iowa (3-0) to an unblemished record so far, and the Hawkeyes will try to pick up their fourth and fifth victories this weekend. The Black and Gold will take on Northeastern (0-2) at noon Saturday in the first game of the KCRG-TV9 Hawkeye

Challenge, as they host the tournament for the 25th time. On Nov. 21, Iowa will play either Central Michigan-Northern Colorado matchup.

Bluder has harped on the squad's defensive abilities since the team's media day on Oct. 11, and while the Hawkeyes have only allowed an average of 51.3 points per game, the 11-year head coach continued to play down their performance — until Tuesday's victory.

"We always talk about we want to push hard on the steal, and I thought we did a really good job of doing that [Tuesday]," Bluder said. "Pushing hard on the steal and really getting out in the passing lanes.

"I thought it really disrupted Bradley."

With high expectations, Iowa knows that ultimately, team defense will allow it to reach those expectations.

Alexander agreed with her coach's sentiments, and she said a mix of one-on-one and zone defenses fit the Hawkeyes well for the long haul of the season.

"[Our steal numbers] are amazing compared with last year," she said. "It's nice to see that our summer work has carried on into the season. Seventeen steals is fantastic."

Iowa will try to continue its defensive success this weekend in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The Hawkeyes have had a lot of success in their own event — the Hawks have won 19 of the previous 24 tournaments. Over that span, Iowa has a 42-6 record in Hawkeye Challenge contests.

This is going to be the second weekend in a row in which Bluder's bunch plays back-to-back games. The squad opened the season 2-0 at the Islander Tip-Off in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Nov. 12-13.

Forcing turnovers has been a critical key for Iowa thus far, and point guard Kamille Wahlin said she looks to score off of every opponent's miscue.

The Hawkeyes scored 35 points off of turnovers against Bradley.

"We're doing a good job [in transition]," the junior said. "As soon as we get the steal or get the board, we're sending two people up the sideline and just looking for each other."

Despite the team's defensive prowess and transition offense, there are still some things to work on, Bluder said.

Last season, the Hawkeyes seemed to be lethal at times from 3-point range, but that effectiveness hasn't been established this year. Against Bradley, the team was 8-of-30 from beyond the arc. Bluder said the Hawks would hone in on their shooting before the Saturday matchup.

"[Three-point shooting] is an area we want to excel at — that is part of our game plan," Bluder said. "I think we can get more variety in our offense, so we need to continue working on feeding the post and getting inside shots as well."

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