Iowa showing progress in Big Ten play

BY MATT CABEL | JANUARY 28, 2014 5:00 AM

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Ally Disterhoft stops to autograph a basketball before she heads into the locker room before almost every game in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

She’s a hometown hero for those who go to see Lisa Bluder’s squad play a well-rounded game of basketball. Anyone who follows Iowa women’s basketball knew that Disterhoft would play a crucial role in the success of Bluder’s well-established program.

It might also be safe to say that no one, including Disterhoft herself, knew that the Iowa City native would play such a pivotal role in the 2013-14 team’s success.

Whether in a starting or bench role, Disterhoft’s skills have been crucial for the team. She averages 14.4 points per game in conference play, 15th best in the Big Ten and third best for a freshman. The guard has been a force to be reckoned with from beyond the arc and in driving the lane for and-1 opportunities.

She’s the team’s second leading rebounder, with 120 and a 5.7 per game average, and one of the team’s five players who average scoring in double figures.

Disterhoft began the season coming off the bench, but after the team got blown out by Michigan State, she was moved into the starting lineup and had her best game of the season, posting a double-double with a career-high 24 points and 10 rebounds.

She’s a freshman who plays nothing like one.

The move into the starting lineup sent a message: Spots in the starting lineup are not guaranteed, and that the head coach isn’t afraid to make drastic changes to give her team a better chance at making a deeper run in March.

Now, Bluder’s top five scorers share the floor to start the games, and it’s the best decision the coach has made all season. She put a wrinkle in how teams prepare to face the Hawkeyes. She made her team, which is already one of the top scoring offenses in the Big Ten, even more of a threat.

Disterhoft is the immediate scoring threat that Kali Peschel wasn’t providing, the key to getting off to fast offensive starts and avoiding the come-from-behind method it had found varying degrees of success with.

It doesn’t matter that all of the team’s best players take the court at the same time. It’s clearly working, and it should continue, unless Bluder needs immediate size in her starting lineup. The team has just enough depth that rotating one or two of its starters off the court at once can still keep the offense flowing, especially with the recent improvement of fellow freshman guard Alexa Kastanek.

But Disterhoft’s contributions to the program don’t only come from her production on the court. She’s a poster girl for the state of Iowa: Miss Iowa Basketball in her senior year, Gatorade Player of the Year in Iowa, and when she was 9 years old, she appeared on a poster for the women’s basketball program she now stars in.

The poster shows the young Disterhoft holding a basketball and looking up, dreaming of Iowa players. The caption reads “Dream Big.” She orally committed to play at Iowa her during junior year of high school. Disterhoft is a testament to what can be achieved, a testament that basketball talent can find success playing in the state of Iowa.

Big things are yet to come in Disterhoft’s Iowa career. But even as she continues this season as a freshman, it’s evident that the squad wouldn’t have success without her.

And if she continues to play at such a veteran level — and all signs say that she will — the program she will soon be the face of will have lots and lots of that success.

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