Bluder's bunch faces first real challenge

BY JON FRANK | DECEMBER 02, 2010 7:20 AM

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Outsized, outranked, but unwavering, the 18th-ranked Iowa women's basketball team will try to continue its undefeated season against its first ranked opponent.

The Hawkeyes (7-0) will have their hands full against the undefeated Tar Heels (7-0) as they attempt to make waves in the NCAA by overcoming the home crowd at the famed Dean Smith Center, in which past basketball stars such as Michael Jordan made history.

Despite the challenge that lies ahead for Iowa, coach Lisa Bluder is thrilled about the opportunity to hand No. 14 North Carolina its first setback of the season.

"We need to go in there understanding that we have an opportunity," the 11-year head coach said. "An opportunity to really open people's eyes across America with a signature win for our program."

She laid out the scenario clearly, adding, "We don't have a whole lot to lose … We have everything to gain."

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome for Bluder's squad is size.

The Tar Heels' roster is defined by height and athleticism. North Carolina has two players who switch between forward and center — one 6-5 and the other 6-6. It's no surprise the team has the fourth-best rebounding margin in the country, nor that it has out-rebounded the opposition by 18 per game.

"We need to keep them off the boards; they are very good at offensive rebounding," sophomore Jaime Printy said. "We need to take care of the ball because we've been struggling with turnovers as well."

To contend with a bigger team that relies on second-chance points, Bluder knows the answer lies in aggressive play — something that hasn't necessarily shown up so far this season.

"We can crash better than we are," Bluder said. "We're relying on Kachine [Alexander] to crash a little more for the whole team instead of four people crashing the boards. We'd like to send four to the boards."

More than that, Bluder said, fundamentals and positioning will be crucial components to win the war in the paint.

But thanks to a 7-0 start highlighted by some hard-fought victories, the Hawkeyes are confident in their abilities. Particularly, an improvement on the defensive side of the ball has made the team a more complete unit.

"We were disappointed in our defense last year," Bluder said. "We took it to heart as a team and a staff that if we're going to improve and be a better basketball team next year, the easiest way for us to do that is to be a better defensive team."

And the Hawks have.

Look back to Nov. 25. Trailing James Madison by 10 halfway into the second half, Iowa turned to stingy defense instead of high-powered offense to climb out of the hole a meager 30 percent shooting percentage had dug.

"We've learned a lot in different games," Alexander said. "A couple games we've learned that if our shooting's off, defense is going to win it. Or, we can finish out games if we're behind. This game, it's going to be winning on the road with a really good team."

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