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Hawkeye women's basketball ranked high after tough stretch

BY MATT COZZI | DECEMBER 16, 2010 7:10 AM

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Fifth in the nation.

That's where the Iowa women's basketball team was ranked as of Wednesday afternoon. Well, at least in statistical terms.

RealTimeRPI has Iowa No. 5 and also has the Hawkeyes with the eighth-best schedule in the nation.
RPI takes into account a team's record as well as that of its opponents, and it is a key factor in March, when NCAA Tournament seeds are unveiled.

Head coach Lisa Bluder said although the season is only 10 games old, the RPI ranking "speaks volumes."

"It shows you're playing against quality competition," she said. "A lot of people can sit here and be 9-1 in the country. I can schedule every year to go undefeated in nonconference if I wanted to, but then our RPI probably wouldn't be Top-20 in the country with the type of teams that you would need to play to guarantee that you're undefeated."

Through the first 10 games of the season, Bluder's squad has played three opponents who have been either ranked or received votes in both major women's basketball polls.

Those three teams represent the Hawkeyes' most recent stretch, which is arguably the toughest of their nonconference slate. Iowa went on the road to play then No. 14 North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., then hosted both Kansas State and then-16th-ranked Iowa State in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

For Iowa, those prestigious contests resulted in a 2-1 record, a further boost to its national ranking and postseason résumé. The Hawkeyes (9-1) currently sit at No. 15 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll, and No. 16 in the AP Top 25 rankings.

Bluder said the previous three-game stretch would be beneficial as the Hawkeyes head into their final non conference games and then their daunting Big Ten schedule.

"That really sets you up to what it's going to be like playing in the Big Ten and playing that level of competition night after night after night," the 11-year Hawkeye coach said. "We did pretty well in that stretch, and it's going to give us confidence going into the [conference schedule]."

Looking Ahead

After a nine-day layoff following a victory against the in-state rival Cyclones, Iowa will conclude finals week with a trip to Brookings, S.D., on Saturday to take on South Dakota State (4-5).

With no game action for more than a week, sophomore center Morgan Johnson said there are some specifics the Hawkeyes have worked on before returning to the hardwood.

"We've really worked on getting our shooting touch back," Johnson said. "Defensively, just keeping up the energy and knowing that we can stick with teams has been really important."

The game will be the first of three in five days; the Hawkeyes also travel to Des Moines for an in-state bout with Drake before returning to Iowa City on Dec. 22 to play Northern Iowa.

After that, the real fun begins. Over the winter break, the Hawkeyes will play six Big Ten teams — including a trip to Penn State for its first league contest on Dec. 30 — and against No. 11 Ohio State in a highly anticipated matchup on Jan. 8.

Sophomore Jaime Printy — who is averaging a team-leading 14.5 points per game — said playing a difficult nonconference schedule will pay big dividends when the Hawkeyes face conference opponents later this month.

"We're used to playing games close to each other now," the sophomore said. "I think this past week we've done a lot of conditioning and keeping ourselves in shape, so we'll be ready."

Injury update

Iowa sophomore guard Trisha Nesbitt, who has yet to play this year after suffering a plantar fasciitis injury during preseason practice, has improved recently, Bluder said. Though she isn't close to returning to game action, she has begun jogging.

"Jogging is a long way from playing defense and cutting and jumping," Bluder said. "But we're seeing progress now.


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