By Dan Johnson
That’s how Iowa senior Kachine Alexander sees the Hawkeyes’ women’s basketball team after the group overcame a mix of youth and injuries to finish 20-14 last season and reach the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
With virtually the whole team back, the Hawkeyes are looking to expand on last season’s success.
“The sky is the limit,” Alexander said during Monday’s media day. “Last year, we were just getting in the groove at the end of the season. People watching saw how our offense started clicking. I feel this team has so many weapons. We have 3-point shooters all over the floor. We have people that can go to the basket. We can do a lot of different things.”
With a nucleus of freshmen and sophomores, it took a half-season for Iowa to mesh last season. The Hawkeyes were 8-9 overall and off to a 1-6 start in the Big Ten before winning nine of their final 11 conference games.
Then they reached the finals of the Big Ten Tournament before losing 66-64 to Ohio State and beat Rutgers in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to No. 2 Stanford.
“It’s definitely going to make us a lot more confident this year,” sophomore center Morgan Johnson said. “We’re looking for improvement and we know what we want to do. We have goals and purposes and we know what’s ahead of us, and it’s really exciting.”
Iowa returns all its starters, plus sophomores Theairra Taylor and Hannah Draxten, who were projected as starters but missed most of the season with injuries.
It lost one player from last season, reserve forward Gabby Machado transferred because of a family illness. And center JoAnn Hamlin, who missed her senior season with a blood clot, was unable to get a medical hardship.
The Hawkeyes will be led by Alexander, a 5-foot-9 guard, who hustled her way to average a double-double last season — 16 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. She is one of 30 players on the watch list for the Wooden Award and one of 25 players on the list for the Wade Trophy, both of which honor the nation’s top player.
Alexander accomplished all that despite a stress fracture in her shin that bothered her throughout the season. It forced her to miss seven games, walk in a protective boot, and wear a brace during play.
“Wearing that brace was so cumbersome,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “What she did was amazing. That just shows you her willpower. That would take down most people, and it didn’t.”
Alexander had a rod put in her leg during the summer and said she should be 100 percent by the start of the season, which will be a welcome change.
“Before the Big Ten Tournament, I was probably 65 percent,” she said. “For the NCAAs, I was probably 30 percent. I didn’t practice at all.”
She is part of a three-guard lineup that includes junior Kamille Wahlin, who averaged 14.2 points at the point, and sophomore Jaime Printy at the wing.
Printy was the Big Ten’s 2010 freshman of the year after averaging 14.7 points and making 82 3-pointers. She said playing such a big role as a freshmen was tough early, but should help this season.
“It was kind of overwhelming at times, but last year us getting thrown in like that is going to help so much this year,” Printy said. “We’re all experienced. We’re not just sophomores that didn’t play very much.”
The goals are higher this year. Iowa wants to contend for the Big Ten title and not just make the NCAA Tournament, but go deeper into the tournament. To do that, it will have to avoid resting on last season’s laurels.
“We beat teams that we probably weren’t supposed to beat, and it has to be the same this year,” Bluder said.
One thing Iowa showed last season is it can shoot. The Hawkeyes ranked 11th in the nation with 7.9 3-pointers per game and 17th in 3-point percentage at 36.9 percent. They were sixth nationally in free-throw shooting at 77.1 percent. Printy, Wahlin and Kelly Krei combined to make 221-of-573 3-pointers, 38.6 percent. And Iowa adds Kalli Hansen, a transfer from Kirkwood Community College, who can also shoot threes.
Iowa’s weakness is the same as last season. It has no true backup center for 6-foot 5-inch sophomore Morgan Johnson. When Johnson is on the bench, Iowa will call on 6-1 Kelsey Cermak, a natural forward, to fill in.
“It’s difficult being the only (center), but Gabby did a great job of backing me up last year and I think Kelsey is going to do an awesome job,” Johnson said. “I don’t feel any pressure at all. I feel like this year I’m more prepared and definitely have more confidence.”
Iowa won’t catch anyone by surprise this season. The Hawkeyes are ranked 19th in the Lindy’s magazine preseason top 25.
“High expectations,” said Taylor. “The coaches told us day one in practice that we have a target on our backs, we’re not going to sneak up on anyone this year. Practices are more intense, so it’s exciting.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball