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Suchomel: Short bench may bite Hawkeye women

[ 0 ] March 7, 2013 |

HOFFMAN ESTATES, ILL. – Where have the freshman gone?

The Iowa women’s basketball team won its 20th game on Thursday, beating Northwestern 60-55 in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.

The five-game losing streak that dogged the Hawkeyes from Jan. 31 to Feb. 16 is way back in the rear view mirror, and the prospect of having some other team playing in Iowa City for the NCAA Tournament – while the Hawkeyes are in the WNIT – is now very unlikely

But how high can Iowa’s star rise this weekend? It will be difficult for Iowa to win four games in four days in the Sears Centre with a short bench.

The five Hawkeye starters played 165 of a possible 200 minutes on Thursday. Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year, Melissa Dixon, played 28 minutes (that’s 193 of 200).

The Hawkeyes gave freshman post Kayla Timmerman 2 minutes in the second half. Junior point guard Kathy Thomas logged 3 minutes, and senior guard Trisha Nesbitt 2 minutes.

The other three Iowa freshmen? They were cooling their heels on the bench.

It is a substituting pattern that Iowa coach Lisa Bluder has used for the stretch run of the season.

“I think we were playing the people that played well together, that were contributing, that were giving us the best opportunity to win at this point,” Bluder said on Wednesday. “So that’s the direction that we went.”

Bluder has never been shy about using freshmen in the past. Seniors Morgan Johnson and Jaime Printy each made 34 starts as freshmen, and Nesbitt played in all 34 games.

Theairra Taylor, a junior, and Dixon, a sophomore, played large roles as freshmen before injures forced them to miss games.

Sophomore Samantha Logic started all 31 games as a freshman a year ago.

But none of the current four Iowa freshmen have played much once the Big Ten season began on Jan. 3 – Kali Peschel (68 minutes), Kayla Timmerman (63), Claire Till (9), and Nicole Smith (1). That’s total minutes for each over 16 games.

Till had some injury issues in January, Smith is coming off a 2012 ACL surgery, but both are cleared to play.

And in the last six regular season games none of the four freshman played more than one minute

When asked if the freshman weren’t developing back on Feb. 13, Bluder said this: “I don’t think you can measure it in terms of minutes. Because in the past we’ve had freshmen play minutes because of necessity, because there was opportunity because of injuries. And this year, thank goodness, we haven’t had the injuries, but there hasn’t been the opportunity for our freshman.

“So I don’t think you can really base the amount of minutes they play on the quality of their play, but really on the depth of our team this year.”

The talk about this team in October was about the depth Iowa would finally have this year. It was about returning five starters and keeping them fresh all season with a deep bench.

Iowa finishing 7th in the Big Ten was a bit of a letdown for a squad returning five starters. It is a team, which I believe, has the best post (Johnson), best point guard (Logic) and best scorer (Printy) of the Bluder era. … All on one team.

And, to be fair, this coaching staff has done a great job of recruiting Big Ten-ready players in the past.

But for one reason or another, these freshmen are not ready for prime time. So either they were incorrectly targeted as Big Ten players … or perhaps they were targeted with the hope they had the skills to develop into great Big Ten players and just aren’t there yet.

I don’t sit in practices. Timmerman has shown glimpses of being a strong post. Peschel and Till both seem to be long-armed guards with the ability to shoot 3-pointers … the kind that have served the Hawkeyes well over the past decade. Smith has barely played (12 minutes all season).

The final chapters of this season are going to be written by Printy and Johnson. It might be a great ending.

Future chapters? To be determined. Definitely TBD.

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball

About Ryan Suchomel: Reach Ryan Suchomel at 339-7368 or rsuchomel@press-citizen.com. View author profile.

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