Iowa women managing hype heading into season opener

Ryan Murken

Every new season brings many of the same challenges.

Shaking off the rust, integrating the newcomers and tumultuous schedules are all obstacles teams face early in the season.

For Iowa, you can toss a new one onto the list of possible early-season barriers: managing the hype.

Fresh off one of the best seasons in program history Iowa enters Friday's 6 p.m. season opener against USC-Upstate at Carver Hawkeye Arena ranked in the top 20 in the country and with excitement and expectations approaching all-time highs.

"Since I've been here, the hype hasn't been as big as it has been this year," senior center Bethany Doolittle said. "We try to not pay attention to that; we just try to pay attention to what we are doing."

What the Hawkeyes did last year to rustling up expectations was win — a lot.

Iowa's 27 victories last season tied for the second most in program history.

The Hawkeyes bring back four starters who all averaged double figures in scoring from last year's team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament second round.

Iowa is No. 19 in both the ESPN and Associated Press polls to open the season.

"After a really successful season last year we obviously have a lot more hype surrounding our team but you can't really pay attention to that stuff," senior Melissa Dixon said. "You just have to go back to working on the things that we have always worked on and continuing to work better."

Last year's win total upped the expectations for this year's group that added a highly touted recruiting class to bolster depth.

The way the Hawkeyes won their 27 games last season has led to the bump in excitement.

Iowa led the Big Ten and set a school record for scoring offense last season averaging 78.2 points per game.

The 2,814 points by the Hawkeyes last season were the second-most points in a season in Big Ten history.

Iowa picked up where they left off last season in a 119-57 exhibition win over NAIA St. Ambrose on Sunday.

"When you scored 119 points it is hard to point out too many weaknesses," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said of her offense. "It's good to go against a different style because with our offense, every style that we play against gives us different looks so ... going against a number of different styles is really important."

Friday's meeting is the season opener for USC-Upstate, which returns all five starters from last year's 17-15 team that finished fourth in the Atlantic Sun Conference.

The Spartans are led by 6-foot junior center Brittany Starling, who averaged 10.5 points and 7.9 rebounds per game last year.

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WOMEN'S BASKETBALLUSC-Upstate (0-0) at Iowa (0-0)

• Specifics — 6 p.m., Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City

• Following the game —Radio: WHO (1040 AM). Live scoring:

• Preview — Coming off one of the best seasons in school history in Iowa opens the season ranked No. 19 in the country. The Hawkeyes return four starters from last year's team that won 27 games last season, tied for the second most in program history. USC-Upstate returns all five starters from a team that went 17-15 and finished fourth in the Atlantic Sun Conference last season.