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Keeler: Iowa mojo working, just ask ISU coach Fennelly

[ 2 ] December 9, 2010 |

Special? No question. But in case you’re still wondering HOW special Lisa Bluder’s Hawkeyes are, we give you Bill Fennelly.

“They’re going to be a tough out all year,” the Iowa State women’s basketball coach said after his Cyclones were mugged, 62-40, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “And they’ll be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament. They’re going to get a seed 2-3-4, somewhere in that (range).

“If you love women’s basketball like our fans do, it’s a team that deserves the support of the (Iowa) fan base. Because I think they’re going to enjoy watching a lot — A LOT — of wins. We’re not going to be the last team that gets their butts kicked in this building. I promise you that.”

When told by reporters of Fennelly’s praise, Bluder smiled.

“I hope he’s right,” the Iowa coach said after routing the Cyclones at home for the second time in three seasons. “I hope that we can really establish a home-court dominance like they have over at Hilton (Coliseum).”

Defense? Check. Shooters? Yep. Depth? Check. Big Dance experience? You betcha. Heck, the only thing the 9-1 Hawkeyes are missing is a nasty home-court advantage — not that the 6,364 on hand Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena didn’t try their darnedest.

Over the first seven-and-a-half minutes of the ballgame, the Cyclones were called for two shot-clock violations and outscored 14-6. As junior guard Laurie Mansfield recalled, the visitors could tell right away that it probably wasn’t going to be their night.

“Their defense,” the Aussie said of Iowa, which held its in-state rivals to 32.6 percent shooting from the floor and outrebounded them by 13, “was just really intense.”

The Cyclones were bigger. These Hawkeyes were quicker. Also, hungrier.

“I think it’s a signature win for us in the fact that it’s the 15th-ranked team in the country,” Bluder said. “Getting that (kind of margin), I think, will make an impact on (the NCAA tourney) selection committee.”

At least, you’d hope. If anything, the rout was another reminder that we probably don’t appreciate Bluder — or Bluder’s program — enough.
Part of that is because of the well-oiled machine in Ames driven by the media-savvy Fennelly, who built a monster up from nothing and left the single-biggest basketball stamp in Story County since Johnny Orr hung up his whistle.

While Bluder inherited a program with history and kept it relevant despite the Cyclones’ rise — a thorn her predecessors didn’t have to deal with — she nevertheless remains stuck, to some degree, in the shadow of C. Vivian Stringer. Even some 15 years after Stringer’s been gone.

C Viv piloted the Hawkeyes to nine NCAA Tournaments in 12 seasons here; Bluder’s on a pace to reach a comparable eight in 11 campaigns. Of course, the devil’s in the details — the current Iowa coach has a 3-7 record in the Big Dance and has yet to take the Hawkeyes past the second round; Stringer was 10-9 here with a Final Four berth thrown in the mix.

Maybe this bunch changes all that. If there’s a team with a Sweet 16 feel, a Sweet 16 mojo, this one might be it. Just ask the Cyclones.
“They’ve got more shooters, more depth and all-around skill (than a year ago),” offered Iowa State star Kelsey Bolte, who was held to eight points — or more than nine below her 17.3 average. “So they’re going to be really good this year.”

And to this point, the bandwagon’s still got plenty of room. If Thursday was any indication, Hawkeye fans are in for a heck of a ride.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball

About Sean Keeler: Sean Keeler has been a sports columnist at The Des Moines Register since 2002. Got a story tip, comment, complaint? E-mail him at skeeler@dmreg.com. You can follow him on twitter at twitter.com/seankeeler or on Facebook at facebook.com/smkeeler. View author profile.

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