Hawkeyes had their share of ups and downs

BY JON FRANK | MARCH 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa women’s basketball team’s 92-86 loss to Gonzaga in the first round of the NCAA Tournament raises several questions about the season that was and what’s to come.

Was the season a success?

Coach Lisa Bluder thinks so.

“I’m really proud of my players,” she said in a press conference after the March 19 loss in Spokane, Wash. “We had a good season, a very good season.”

For the fourth time in as many years, Bluder’s Bunch put up 20-plus victories. The Hawkeyes went 10-6 in a competitive Big Ten. They beat three top-25 teams. And, perhaps most impressively, they posted their best record (22-9) since former head coach Angie Lee led the Hawkeyes to a 27-4 record in the 1995-96 season.

But then there’s the downside.

After closing the 2009-10 regular season with an 11-2 stretch and ending the season with an appearance in the second-round of the NCAA Tournament, many had big expectations for the Hawkeyes going into the 2010-11 season. They returned the majority of the roster and were projected to finish second in the Big Ten by the league’s media.

In that regard, they fell short.

Iowa suffered some tough setbacks, most notably a 60-53 loss to Michigan at home. The Hawkeyes were struggling at that point in the season.

“We’ve been kind of down on our field-goal percentage throughout the season,” senior Kachine Alexander said after the Jan. 2 loss. “Maybe when we’re getting in the gym, we’re not going game speed.”

Nonetheless, Bluder’s Bunch rallied and finished conference play with five consecutive wins but lost to Ohio State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament after receiving a No. 4 seed. The loss wasn’t dire, however. The team had already all but locked up a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

“Close games are always fun,” sophomore guard Jaime Printy said after the loss to Ohio State. “They went on runs, and we went on runs, and, I mean, we just came out a little short.”

And then there’s the heartbreaker against the Bulldogs.

The selection committee gave the Hawkeyes a No. 6 seed, their highest berth in years. But misfortune struck when they faced a Gonzaga squad that had averaged 86 points per game and had only lost four games all year.

The biggest question going into next year, without a doubt, is replacing senior Kachine Alexander. The All-Big Ten guard brought an unmatched swagger and defensive prowess. Known as the vocal leader of her squad, the Minneapolis native led the team in rebounds with her uncanny ability to outwork opponents for boards, despite her small frame — she is generously listed at 5-9.

“It’s an honor to be coached by the coaches we have and to wear the Iowa uniform and be proud,” she said before her last game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, which was on Feb. 24 against Illinois.

But Bluder recruited a talented roster of freshmen to step in. Led by the highly touted guard Samantha Logic, who is the No. 10 ranked prospect of the 2011 class by ESPN HoopGurlz, the incoming class features three guards, a forward, and a center.

The future is uncertain. Bluder’s incoming class has yet to show whether it will be a bust or a blessing. In the off-season, the 2010-11 finale won’t soon be forgotten.

“We established a tradition,” Bluder said. “We’re finishing in the top of the Big Ten every year. I just feel like our program has arrived, and it’s where you want to be.”

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