Offensive freedom has Iowa scoring at school-best clip

Ryan Murken
Iowa's Ally Disterhoft, seen here against Drake, is leading the Hawkeyes in scoring this season.

Any old-fashioned basketball enthusiasts wondering if Lisa Bluder has a chalk board on hand to draw up a play in a pinch can relax.

Bluder still has a board for designing plays, it's just not chalk and these days it's not getting much use.

The high-scoring Hawkeyes have largely ditched the routine of set plays in their half-court offense recently in favor off a free-flowing continuity offense — something Bluder installed nearly a decade ago.

"Not very often," Bluder said when asked how often she draws up plays on the bench. "We'll draw something up to jog their memory on a play but very rarely do we draw up a play."

Whatever Bluder and the Hawkeyes are doing on offense is working with record efficiency.

Iowa led the Big Ten in scoring a season ago with a school-record 78.2 points per game.

The Hawkeyes are ahead of that pace this season, ranking 14th in the country and third in the Big Ten with 82.2 points per game.

So what is the secret to pouring in points as rapidly as any team in the country?

Besides having a stable of offensive weapons led by senior Samantha Logic, the Hawkeyes' success starts with offensive freedom.

"A lot of our offense is just taking what comes in the flow of the offense," said sophomore Ally Disterhoft, who leads Iowa in scoring at 15.5 points per game. "We'll run our set plays if we need a score but there is a lot of freedom in our offense."

Bluder's continuity offense takes the concepts of a regular motion offense and gives the Hawkeyes the ability to play freely, reacting off one another and the defense.

While set plays come with predetermined routes and are easily scouted, the Hawkeyes' read-and-react style can be a nightmare for opponents to prepare for.

"The brunt of our offense is a continuity offense where the players are reading what the defense is giving them," Bluder explained. "Sets are predictable, they can be scouted, players have to remember so many different plays and when you have to remember so much it slows down your reaction time."

The continuity offense takes time to perfect.

However, once it's running smoothly it's difficult to defend and decipher.

What looks like a set play can be broken off by any player at any time who finds an opening in the defense.

"Our coaches don't consider us a set-based team, they consider us more of a free offense but it's just that we do the same actions over and over and that's why it looks like a set play," junior Kali Peschel said.

So have set plays gone the way of peach baskets and VHS game tapes at Carver-Hawkeye Arena?

Not exactly.

Iowa still has up to 20 half-court set plays available at its disposal every game, along with 15 baseline out-of-bounds plays.

The Hawkeyes began installing their set plays the second week of practice and continue to add, change and remove plays throughout the season.

The timing behind calling a set play is simple for Bluder — it comes when she wants to expose a matchup.

"We will run a set play if we feel like we want to a take advantage of a particular player defensively," Bluder said. "If somebody can't stay with Ally on a drive or a post defender has a couple of fouls on them and we want to take it at them."

With five players currently averaging between 10.5 and 15.5 points per game, the beneficiary of an Iowa set play can be a number of players.

The Hawkeyes have a series of sets for every play on the court.

However, senior sharpshooter Melissa Dixon and center Bethany Doolittle are two of the Hawkeyes that benefit the most from set plays.

"Set plays are extremely important for any shooter," Dixon said. "It's a great way to get them an open look especially when the defense is really denying them or trying to put pressure on them."

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