This season hasn’t gone the way Iowa imagined.
Likewise, the careers of the Hawkeyes' three seniors probably haven’t played out the way the trio imagined.
Iowa has a chance to end its regular season on a high note and send its three seniors out with a victory on Saturday.
Kali Peschel, Claire Till and Nicole Smith will say their goodbyes following Saturday’s 5 p.m. senior day meeting with Illinois (9-19, 2-15 Big Ten) at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“I think there is no doubt those three have put Iowa first before their own self-worth in playing this game and those players today are extremely hard to find,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “Every player that comes in here was a star in their high school and those three were certainly that and to come here and not have that kind of success on the floor is very difficult and to remain with a positive attitude when you are going through that would test anybody, and those three have gotten an 'A' in that test.”
Peschel may be the only senior to factor into Saturday’s outcome as Iowa (17-12, 7-10) attempts to keep its fading NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
Till had career-ending knee surgery on Feb. 22 and Smith has appeared in four games, playing a total of seven minutes this season.
Peschel, a co-captain, is averaging 4.9 points per game during a senior season that saw her start the first 20 games before moving out of the lineup for the third straight season.
“Three times the last three years she has been in the starting lineup and three years she has come out of the starting lineup and a lot of kids would buckle underneath that kind of situation,” Bluder said. “Yet she is still a great leader on our team and is someone the kids really look up too.”
Till, a Dubuque Wahlert graduate, was hampered by chronic knee problems throughout her career.
She played just 14 games this season before undergoing surgery earlier this month that ended her playing career.
“This is kind of an unusual group of three seniors in that their careers maybe haven’t been as storybook as last year’s seniors,” Bluder said. “But I look at somebody like Claire Till who was so excited to come here and be a Hawkeye, she always wanted to be a Hawkeye.”
Smith, a Rockton, Ill., native, had her own injury issues that kept her collegiate career from taking off, but she devoted her time in practice to making young post players Chase Coley and Megan Gustafson better .
“She verbalized it, even saying 'my job is to make those two the best players they can be,' ” Bluder said. “Those are the ultimate team players that do all the work in practice and get none of the recognition.”
For Iowa to have a happy senior day it will need to dispatch an Illinois team that enters the final regular-season game alone in last place in the Big Ten.
The Illini have some star power in the form of sophomore center Chatrice White, who leads the team in scoring (18.1) and rebounding (9.4).
Senior Kyley Simmons, a Council Bluffs native, averages 12 points per game for the Illini.
“They are at the bottom of the conference right now and I can’t figure that one out either, I know somebody has to be at the bottom but you look at Chatrice White and this is a kid that played in the World University Games this summer and she is one of the best centers not only in our conference but in America,” Bluder said. “They have great shooters on their basketball team, they have a senior point guard that is a fifth-year senior so they have all the makings. That’s what again is a little bit of a surprise to me.”
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.
Illinois (9-19, 2-15) at Iowa (17-12, 7-10)
When: Saturday, 5 p.m.
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
Stat leaders: Iowa — Ally Disterhoft 17.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg; Chase Coley 11.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg. Illinois — Chatrice White 18.1 ppg, 9.4 rpg; Kyley Simmons 12 ppg, 3.6 apg.
What to watch: Illinois started the season 7-1 but has gone 2-18 since and has lost two straight entering Saturday's game. Iowa is coming off an 81-68 loss at Penn State on Wednesday. A win would give the Hawkeyes the No. 9 seed in the Big Ten tournament.