Lisa Bluder acknowledged that entering the season there were some doubts lingering around the center position on the Iowa women’s basketball team.
Last year’s leading scorer Morgan Johnson and her program-best 293 career blocks were gone, leaving a 6-foot-5 hole in the middle of the Hawkeyes’ lineup.
Junior Bethany Doolittle was sliding from a forward spot to the center position and Bluder knew there were those outside the Iowa locker room who questioned how the Hawkeyes would fill both the production and presence that Johnson brought to the position.
She also knew none of those doubts existed among this season’s Hawkeyes.
“I think coming into this season, everybody was worried that Morgan Johnson left at our center position, and we never had those worries because we knew that was Bethany’s position,” Bluder explained. “She played there all of her life except last year, we recruited her to play the five so we never had that doubt.”
Any doubts about Doolittle’s ability to produce in the center position are long gone as No. 19 Iowa (26-8) prepares to take on Marist in the opening round of the NCAA women’s tournament at 7 p.m. today at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Doolittle has flourished in her first season succeeding Johnson, earning all-Big Ten second-team honors while leading the Hawkeyes in scoring at 14.2 points per game.
Doolittle hasn’t just matched Johnson’s productivity from a year ago, she’s exceeded it.
The 6-foot-4 Doolittle is shooting a Big Ten-best 56 percent from the floor and leads the conference in blocked shots at 3.1 per game.
“Morgan was a good role model,” Doolittle said. “She was a great player, and watching her my freshman and sophomore year down in the post position really has been a good example for me.”
A high school center, Doolittle started every game for the Hawkeyes last season at the four position with Johnson filling the center spot.
This season, the Oakdale, Minn., native moved back to her natural position and emerged as one of the best in the Big Ten.
Doolittle has nearly doubled her scoring output from 7.2 points per game a year ago to her team-high 14.2 per game this season.
“I think that Beth was that good last year,” junior point guard Samantha Logic said. “I think her post moves are improved just from working on them more, but she has been pretty good since she has been here. Last year we needed her on the floor so we put her out at the four and I think she is much more comfortable now because of that.”
Doolittle spent more time away from the basket last season while playing the four position and has reaped the benefits of that experience this year.
The year playing outside the paint allowed Doolittle to work on her perimeter shooting and moves facing the basket, which has resulted in matchup nightmares for opposing centers this season.
“A lot of true posts don’t want to go out there on the perimeter and Beth can drain 17-footers like nothing so she is very versatile,” Logic said. “She is a stud. She is quick, she is athletic, she makes great moves and so that is a huge part of our team that we run through.”
While Doolittle has excelled on the offensive end in her return to the post this season, she has dominated on the defensive end of the court.
Doolittle was an all-Big Ten defensive team selection after setting the Iowa single-season record for blocked shots with 104.
The 104 blocks this season topped Johnson’s previous single-season mark by 25, are the seventh most by a player in the country this season and top the totals for three Big Ten teams.
“I just try to always be in the best position I can,” Doolittle said. “It’s nice to be able to get the block but the whole goal of it is to get the defensive stop and get going the other way.”
Doolittle, who also averaged 4.6 rebounds per game, has become one of the top shot blockers in the country this season while climbing closer to Johnson’s career mark of 293 blocks.
With 104 blocks this season, Doolittle now has 182 for her career to rank third on Iowa’s all-time list of shot blockers.
“Beth is a great shot blocker, she reads it really well and we rely on her a lot in our zone as well,” Logic said. “She could be coming for Mo’s record a little bit.”
Doolittle has scored in double figures in all but seven of Iowa’s 34 games this season including 15 of the last 17 contests.
She has been even more consistent on the defensive end, where she has blocked three or more shots 19 times this season.
Twice Doolittle has notched a career high with seven blocks.
“Her arm length is tremendous and think she has really good timing,” Bluder said. “Some people swat at a shot and she doesn’t swat them, she tips them and then she is able to regain it and keep the ball in play and it often leads to us getting the basketball. I love the way that Beth is able to block shots.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball