Hawkeyes' bench crucial for future success

BY JACOB SHEYKO | MARCH 11, 2014 5:00 AM

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With 9:39 remaining in the first half of the Iowa women basketball’s loss to Nebraska on Sunday, senior Theairra Taylor picked up her third foul. Twelve seconds later, junior Bethany Doolittle picked up her second, sending two Hawkeye starters to the bench.

Melissa Dixon joined them four minutes later. And with a team built to rely on their starters as much as the Hawkeyes are, the odds of the game becoming a blowout were in Nebraska’s favor.

However, with the help of Claire Till, Kali Peschel, and Kathryn Reynolds, the Hawkeyes trimmed a 23-9 deficit with 9:27 remaining in the first half to a 6-point Cornhusker lead.

“It’s huge just knowing that we have confidence and we can hang with anybody, even when we had some foul trouble,” junior Sam Logic said following Iowa’s 72-65 loss. “We have so much confidence in them, and it shows you why today.”

The Hawkeyes are built on their starters. There’s no denying it. Of their 78.6 points per game averaged this season, 66.3 of them come from their starters.

But if Iowa wants to make an NCAA Tournament run, then its bench will have to replicate its performance in the Big Ten Tournament.

Four bench players saw significant minutes during the Hawkeyes’ run to the Big Ten Tournament championship game — Till, Peschel, Reynolds, and Alexa Kastanek.

Of those four, Till played the biggest role, particularly in the championship game. She made just three 3-pointers before Sunday, but against Nebraska, she knocked down two big 3s, helping the Hawkeyes make what looked like a possible blowout into a close contest.

“I would say [I’m] believing in myself and knowing that I had it all along,” she said. “I just have to go out on the floor and execute. Just not be scared and know that all these girls have my back and these coaches believe in me.”

The Dubuque native also corralled 4 rebounds in 19 minutes of play.

“Claire’s always been a really good rebounder for us; for her minutes played she does an excellent job on the boards,” head coach Lisa Bluder said. “… It’s definitely something we can keep rolling with, I think, with all of those guys.”

Peschel and Reynolds won’t show up on the stat sheet as much as Till did, but their contributions were big for Iowa, particularly in how they handled the defensive pressure of Nebraska and Ohio State in the semifinals game.

Kastanek is the odd one here. In her two games of action, she looked as confortable as she has all season on the floor. But toward the end of Iowa’s second round matchup against Purdue, Kastanek left the floor with a leg injury and did not play the rest of the tournament.

Her status for the NCAA Tournament is unknown, but the two-week break certainly will help.

Having her and the rest of the bench play well is crucial, because while Iowa’s starting five is among the best in the Big Ten, they can only take Iowa so far.

“At any moment you have to be ready to go out there and do your role and do what these coaches and this team asks of you,” Till said. “You play for the love of the game, and then good things happen after that.”

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