Undefeated Iowa heads into tough stretch


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No matter who the Iowa women's basketball team plays over its next few games, the mindset and goal will remain the same: Go game-by-game without looking ahead.

And accomplish what they've done seven times already this season — win.

Head coach Lisa Bluder acknowledged that her team feels good about its undefeated start, but she somewhat played down the importance of the Hawkeyes' next three games, which features the three most prestigious opponents Iowa will play in its nonconference schedule.

The Hawkeyes will face North Carolina, Kansas State, and Iowa State over a weeklong period, from today to Dec. 9.

In its first true road game of the season, Iowa will travel to Chapel Hill, N.C., to take on the Tar Heels tonight as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. North Carolina comes into the game as the No. 14 team in the nation; Bluder's squad currently sits at No. 18.

"We need to concentrate one game at a time with this team," she said. "Of course, I think everybody else on the outside gets excited thinking about this three-game stretch. But it's important we stay focused in one game and really put everything — all of our effort — into this North Carolina game to begin with."

Although an opponent such as North Carolina will boost the Hawkeyes' NCAA Tournament résumé regardless of the outcome, a victory would open eyes across the women's college-basketball landscape. Additionally, Iowa hosts Big Ten/Big 12 Challenge opponent Kansas State (6-0) and Iowa State (5-1) next week.

Following the team's 7-0 start, these three contests can vault Iowa higher in the national rankings and provide momentum heading into conference games beginning later this month.

Senior Kachine Alexander is aware of the possible implications, and she said playing high-caliber teams will only help when Iowa hits the hardwood against Big Ten opponents.

"It's going to be fun," she said. "To have this three-game stretch really quickly, it's all the basketball you need. It's a tough two weeks, anyway, because it's our last two weeks of school before finals, and we still have to be focused for these three games. So, it's going to be tough on our team, but at the same time, we have each other's backs, and we know how to get through it."

Continuous improvement

Although still early in the season, one theme has remained true — the Hawkeyes' defense has improved tremendously compared to last year.

Junior point guard Kamille Wahlin reinforced that notion at the team's weekly press conference on Wednesday.

"I don't think you can even compare our defense this year to last year," she said. "We're anticipating more, we're really trying to get deflections and steals. We still have a lot more we can improve [on defense], but we're definitely a lot stronger."

While Iowa's defense has been performing up to expectations — the Hawkeyes yield just 56.3 points per game — the team's free-throw shooting has also been a key factor in the Hawkeyes' success this season. Facing a 10-point deficit against James Madison on Nov. 25, Iowa's 15-of-16 shooting helped the Hawkeyes come back and win, 67-61.

"I think [free-throw shooting] has always been one of our strengths — Coach Bluder has always stressed that," sophomore Jaime Printy said. "We just need to hit those because those one or two points could be the difference."

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