Tough non-conference could pay dividends for Hawks


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The addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten has added mounds of already-intense pressure on a conference that is among the best for women’s basketball, and teams have prepared accordingly.

Suddenly, teams have fewer nonconference games to use as preparation for Big Ten play, which will roll around toward the end of December.

The Hawkeyes aren’t taking any chances.

With a smaller number of games to work with, head coach Lisa Bluder’s Hawks have squeezed every bit of learning out of their murderous schedule to prepare for an increased Big Ten workload.

“I think we’ve really challenged ourselves with the nonconference schedule this year,” Bluder said. “Our goal is to get ready for the Big Ten, but it’s also to get quality wins for the selection committee so that we have hopes at the end of the year.  That’s the ultimate goal.”

Two fewer nonconference games matchups means replacing easier matchups with the likes of Dayton, Arkansas, Louisville, Gonzaga, and Colorado, quality opponents that certainly haven’t made it easy on the Hawkeyes in the early going.

But more than just scheduling tough teams, Bluder’s Hawks have learned to make adjustments in game-time scenarios against quality competition, something that could pay dividends come March.
Nowhere was this more evident than in their 76-67 victory over Iowa State on Dec. 10.

“You look at the first half of that game, we gave up 13 offensive rebounds in the first; the second half we only gave up 3,” Bluder said. “We shot really well in the first half, then turned around and did a much better job of boxing out and crashing in the second.”

Other teams have started to take notice.

Most recently, Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly remarked at how well prepared Iowa looked in its victory against the Cyclones.

“That’s as good of a team as well see in a lot of ways,” Fennelly said. “Good balance, well-coached, and made winning plays when they needed to.”

At 8-2, the Hawks look every bit like players using the early going as a springboard to launch themselves into the top of the Big Ten standings.

However, the Hawks have not been without their fair share of growing pains.

Doomed by foul trouble in their loss to Arkansas and without an answer to the physicality of No. 7 Louisville, the Black and Gold have received two pretty strong wake-up calls a little more than a month into the season.

“I think the physicality of Arkansas really surprised us,” Bluder said. “Not so much against Colorado because we knew what to expect after that, but I think the Arkansas game really caught a lot of our players off guard.”

And while it hasn’t been easy for them, the Hawks’ schedule has prepared them well for the challenge that lies ahead in conference play.

“Wins like that are huge,” junior Kalli Peschel said after Iowa State. “They’re really important ahead of the Big Ten season.  This can carry over [once we start].  It’s great to feel that hype and the emotional bounce, and hopefully we can carry it over.”

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

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