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Will Bluder’s defense improve in 2014-15?

BY KYLE MANN | OCTOBER 31, 2014 5:00 AM

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We all know about Lisa Bluder’s style of play. The fast pace, the shooting, and the downpour of points were on full display in 2013-14. As good as the offense was, and as good of a season as the Hawkeyes had, looking forward to this season, it’s worth asking: What about the defense?

The Hawkeyes led the Big Ten in scoring offense, averaging 78.2 points per game, and did so incredibly efficiently. They were also top in the conference shooting 46 percent from the field, as well as with their 17.9 assists per game.

All that resulted in a 27-9 record and a trip to the Big Ten championship, so it was a good year. But the as the adage goes, “There’s always room for improvement,” and in this case it doesn’t sound like it’s on the offense.

Iowa was 11th of 12 Big Ten teams last season in scoring defense, surrendering 69.3 points per game. Furthermore, the team was also 11th in defensive rebounds.

Bluder is aware of her team’s weaknesses, but she says it may not be as worrisome as the basic statistics would indicate.

“Absolutely, the areas that we need to improve on are defense and rebounding,” Bluder said. “But I don’t always look at scoring defense because we play an up-tempo game; we’re going to give opportunities for our opponents to score more because we’re shooting the ball quicker. I like to look at margin and field-goal percentage defense.”

In that respect, Bluder had to have been pleased with her team’s plus-8.8 scoring margin, good for third in the conference. Still, the Hawkeyes were ninth in opposing field goal percentage (40.6 percent).

What these more tempo-conscious stats indicate is that, yes, Iowa’s offense was so good that the defense was relatively unchallenged. However, when it comes to actually preventing the opponent from making shots, there’s undoubtedly room to progress.

Center Bethany Doolittle can’t be faulted for her defensive efforts last season; the senior logged an Iowa single-season record 106 blocks. She is, in fact, among the best rim protectors in the conference. This year, the defensive anchor is anticipating an improved unit around her.

“From last year, being one of the top teams in offensive points but one of the lower ones in defensive, that’s been an emphasis in practice,” Doolittle said. “We’ve been working really hard on rebounding and ball pressure.”

With a traditionally guard-oriented system, Bluder may have to look to a pair of newcomers, Chase Coley and Carly Mohns, sooner rather than later in order to boost the team’s presence down low.

The 6-3 Coley was Minnesota’s Gatorade Player of the Year and ranked a top-100 recruit by ESPN; she could be able to provide some strength in the paint immediately. With 870 career blocks during her four years at Washburn High (Minneapolis), Coley is the state’s all-time overall (men’s and women’s) blocks leader.

Mohns, a 6-1 forward, has also been praised by Bluder for being a tenacious rebounder in her early days on campus. The Wisconsin native was a volleyball, high-jump, discus, and shot-put standout at Brodhead High, and as such is a versatile, strong athlete who can battle in the paint.

“I hope I can make an impact, I hope I can help the team. I’m here for whatever they need me to do,” Coley said. “Even if that just means making Beth better in practice, or if she gets in foul trouble, and I have to step up. I think I need to work on my strength a little bit, but I’m going to go in there and work as hard as I can.”

Follow @KyleFMann for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa women’s basketball team.


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