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Notebook: Hawkeyes testing the waters

BY KYLE MANN | DECEMBER 03, 2014 5:00 AM

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When the Iowa women’s basketball team went to Las Vegas for the South Point Thanksgiving Shootout last week, its 1-1 performance offered an opportunity for a few observations about the Hawkeyes. Here’s what we learned:

How does this team respond to a loss?

The Hawkeyes entered the weekend ranked No. 17 in the country with a record of 5-0, so their 77-67 loss to Arkansas was the first taste of defeat this 2014 squad has had to deal with.

The team had to not only overcome a frustrating loss, it had to do so on short notice with a game against Gonzaga the next night. As Bethany Doolittle said on Tuesday, Iowa did so admirably.

“That was definitely the low point of our season thus far,” she said. “We bounced back pretty well against Gonzaga and got a good win under our belt, but we have a lot to learn from that game. So we’re still working on a lot of stuff in practice.”

Behind a Doolittle double-double and 19 points from freshman Whitney Jennings, Iowa downed the Zags, 79-67. The win was an encouraging response to the team’s first misstep, and it also showcased a bit of the depth that could potentially make head coach Lisa Bluder’s team so dangerous down the line.

Bluder works toward correct combination

Returning four starters, there was only one question mark regarding who would round out that starting five, but it’s proving to be more challenging than expected. Bluder said to have it narrowed down to two or three players approaching the beginning of the season, but she has found it troublesome trying to decide whom to play.

Kali Peschel was the incumbent starter, and she has started in three of the seven games thus far. However, Bluder warned in the preseason that the über-talented Jennings was going to give her headaches trying to keep her off the floor and noted that is a good problem to have.

Jennings has started four games, and she is playing 29 minutes per game — more than Melissa Dixon, Ally Disterhoft, and Doolittle — trailing only Sam Logic. Much has been asked of the 5-5 guard, and Bluder said the freshman has performed with remarkable production and poise, but hasn’t quite cemented herself as a permanent starter.

“Whitney has an unbelievable ability of composure. Sometimes, freshmen can kind of lose it — lose their focus, their intensity — and she doesn’t do it,” Bluder said. “She keeps her composure all the time, and she’s into every play, so I’m very impressed with that so far. I think Whitney is playing very well for us.”

She noted, however:

“Have we settled into a for sure starting lineup yet? I wouldn’t say we’re there. But [Jennings] has definitely shown she needs to be on the floor for us a lot.”

Iowa looking for complete performance

The team, Bluder included, acknowledged coming into the season that rebounding and defense were areas for improvement, but were also quick to ensure they would win games with their offense by simply outscoring the other team.

And for the most part, it has worked; the team is scoring 85.4 points per game, outscoring opponents by an average of 19.3 points, and is 6-1 as a result. However, the loss to Arkansas shows that even one of the best offenses in the country can be defeated.

The Hawkeye offense shot 46.8 percent from the floor that night, 50 percent from beyond the arc. Very impressive numbers — and coaches could never realistically expect their teams to shoot over 50 percent from deep. So how, on a night that the offense statistically performed as well as Bluder would like, could Iowa possibly have fallen?

They were outrebounded 51-24, which includes a humiliating 19-4 disparity on offensive boards, got into foul trouble on defense, and put the Razorbacks at the free-throw line 33 times. So it’s simple: Iowa lost because it still struggles to defend or rebound.

“When you don’t have that rebounding in a game, it can be detrimental to a team,” Disterhoft said. “Every day you have to come to practice ready to play hard, work hard, and get better at it. We’ve been working on it and it’s something we’re going to turn around.”

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


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