University of Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder says that her point guard, Kristi Smith, deserves to be first-team All-Big Ten.
Feb. 12, 2008
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Lisa Bluder calls it "another one of those huge weeks."
Despite bearing the burden of having the hypothetical target etched on the back of the University of Iowa women's basketball program, one can only assume that "another week" for the Hawkeyes will produce more victories. Losing hasn't been in the UI vocabulary since a bizarre 73-65 setback at Michigan State more than a month ago (Jan. 10).
Iowa goes for its ninth consecutive victory Thursday at Purdue, which would give the Hawkeyes breathing room over the Boilermakers, who are tied with Ohio State in second place in the league. Tip-off is 6:05 p.m. inside Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Ind.
"It's nice to be at the top, so you have to keep working hard," Iowa junior guard Kristi Smith said. "But you know everybody's gunning for you at the same time."
The Hawkeyes are 17-7 overall, 10-3 in the Big Ten Conference. Purdue is 13-11, 9-4. Iowa won the first meeting, 69-53, on Jan. 24 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
"Purdue is definitely going to want to come back and get a victory," Smith said. "We have a huge target on our back right now so we've got to keep playing solid basketball and take care of business."
The eight-game winning streak for the Hawkeyes is not only the longest current streak, but it is the longest streak for any conference school at any time during the season. The Hawkeyes have not won at Purdue since a 73-67 decision on Feb. 6, 1998 (a span of seven games).
"We know it's going to be a tough place to play," Bluder said. "They're going to have a great crowd and we're playing on the road. We haven't won at Purdue since 1998, but our players are taking a lot of joy out of taking down these barriers and we have another opportunity to do that on Thursday night against Purdue."
At 4-2, Iowa is the only Big Ten Conference team with a winning record on the road in league play. Bluder gives much of that credit to a seasoned group of returning seniors.
"A lot of it has to do with your leadership on the basketball team," Bluder said. "I think Johanna Solverson and Abby Emmert -- as our two captains -- have done a great job, but we also have five seniors in addition to those two. They are just providing great leadership. You have to have good seniors to win. You have to have seniors that embrace the leadership and our seniors have that attitude right now."
One of the more interesting matchups between Iowa and Purdue will take place on the glass. The Boilermakers are first in Big Ten-only games with 38.2 rebounds per game. Iowa is first in rebounding margin (plus-5.6) and rebound defense, holding opponents to an average of 32. 5 boards a game. The Hawkeyes also lead the league in assists per game (16.0) and are second in three-point field goals per game (6.23) and scoring margin (plus-4.8). Purdue is first in scoring defense (57.7) and steals per game (9.85).
"They're enjoying it. There is no extra pressure or anything like that," Bluder said. "This team feels like they have worked hard and that they deserve it, so they might as well go ahead and take it. That's their attitude and I think they're really having a great time."
Smith, who Bluder says deserves to be first-team All-Big Ten, continues to lead the Hawkeyes in scoring at 13.5 points per game. She is also tops in free throw shooting (.814), assists (3.2) and steals (1.3). Wendy Ausdemore is averaging 11.3 points per game and has made a team-high 56 three-point field goals. Megan Skouby (9.1 ppg) and Solverson (9.0) add to the Hawkeye scoring balance. Jenee Graham (5.2) and Krista VandeVenter (5.1) are the top IU rebounders.
Leading the way in scoring for Purdue are Lakisha Freemnan (12.9) and Danielle Campbell (12.6). The Boilermakers lost at Michigan State, 56-54, on Monday, Feb. 11. Purdue is 6-1 in Big Ten games inside Mackey Arena.
THINK PINK SUNDAY -- Iowa will host its first "Think Pink" event Sunday, Feb. 17, when Minnesota (17-8, 8-5) comes to town at 3:30 p.m. in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for children, while UI students are free. It will be Iowa's last home weekend game of the season.
All fans are encouraged to wear pink in support of the cancer awareness event. In addition to the Hawkeyes wearing pink-trimmed uniforms and warm-up shirts, there will be a number of promotional giveaways. Pink prizes will be distributed throughout the game, including hats, crocs and tickets. Pink three-point field goal placards will be handed out at the door. Both the American Cancer Society and Holden Cancer Research Center on the UI campus will have tables on the concourse to accept outside donations. The ACS will hand out shower cards as well.
HERE for the Big Ten Network home page.