Commentary: Dawn of another new era

BY MATT CABEL | MARCH 27, 2014 5:00 AM

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The final buzzer of the 2013-14 season didn’t have a satisfying ring for the Iowa women’s basketball team.

Lisa Bluder’s bunch was sent packing after a 30-point beat-down to grossly under-seeded No. 3 Louisville in the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes only made one 3-pointer, went for almost eight minutes without scoring a field goal, and turned the ball over more than they assisted.

But Bluder told her team that its season isn’t defined by the loss to Louisville, and she’s right.

Tuesday marked the conclusion of a special season, regardless of its final game, and created the prelude for what could be a top-15 season next winter.

Led by captains Theairra Taylor and Sam Logic, the 2013-14 team earned 27 wins — the second most in program history — and earned a road victory against Penn State. Bluder surpassed former Iowa coach Vivian Stringer as the head coach with the most wins at Iowa, and the team made an appearance in the championship bout of the Big Ten Tournament.

Quite an accomplishment for a team who had some 90 percent of its scoring come from its starting lineup.

The 474 points that freshman Ally Disterhoft’s accumulated were the second most for a freshman in program history behind Jaime Printy. Taylor started every game for the second season in a row, and finished out her career with a string of stellar 20-plus point games that included numerous shots that defined “clutch,” including the shot that put her team in the tournament title game. And this is without mentioning center Bethany Doolittle and Logic, who each had All-Big Ten seasons of their own.

Four of those starters will return next year, plus the entire bench, plus five incoming freshmen, two of whom were named the best players in their respective states.

Sounds just about right for a program working to earn an eighth-consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.

Iowa won’t be one of women’s basketball’s elite teams 2014-15 — all but four won’t be. But it will be an extremely relevant team in the Big Ten. Newcomer Whitney Jennings can be a perfect replacement for Taylor in the starting lineup despite standing only 5-5. The departure of Jordan Hooper from Nebraska and Maggie Lucas from Penn State will leave the race for a regular-season title wide open, with Iowa definitely in the mix.

This was a team that was extremely fun to watch — it fought hard in the face of big deficits and foul trouble, and had great chemistry on the floor that translated into open looks, assists, and one of the best scoring offenses in the Big Ten.

Bluder and her staff know what they’re doing, and they are willing to make the changes necessary to win. Disterhoft spent much of the nonconference schedule coming off the bench before being placed in the starting lineup after the loss to Michigan State. She exploded for a career-high 24 points in that game and started every game afterwards.

Who would have expected a team with five players playing small ball to win 27 games? I had my doubts at times. But it’s almost scary to imagine what the Hawkeyes will be capable of next year, with a full bench, loads of experience, and a strong coaching staff.

There was concern before the season that Iowa would struggle to replace Printy and center Morgan Johnson. That concern is long dead. This is a program that has the will to win, and the talent and track records to prove it.

And when the ball tips next winter, we’ll see just how far the Hawkeyes can go.

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