Hawkeyes begin Big Ten play with visit from Penn State

Ryan Murken
Iowa's Melissa Dixon struggles to keep the ball inbounds during the Hawkeyes' game against Penn State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Jan. 5. Iowa split their series with the Nittany Lions last year, with both road teams winning. The Hawkeyes begin their 18-game Big Ten schedule Sunday against Penn State.

Landing just three days after Christmas, Sunday's Big Ten Conference opener left the Iowa women's basketball team with little time to prepare.

Fortunately for the No. 23 Hawkeyes, a rugged nonconference slate has been prepping Iowa for the rigors of Big Ten play for the past month.

Iowa (9-2) beefed up its nonconference slate this season and will enter Sunday's 2 p.m. Big Ten opener against Penn State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena rested and battle tested.

The Hawkeyes played three games in an eight-day span earlier this month, going 2-1 against Louisville, Colorado and Iowa State.

Iowa then wrapped up its nonconference schedule with a 100-98 win over in-state rival Drake on last Sunday.

"It was a tough stretch but it gets us ready for the Big Ten season," Iowa sophomore Ally Disterhoft said. "In the Big Ten season you are going to turn around and you are going to play a great team every night. I think our schedule is a great prep for the Big Ten."

The grueling nonconference slate did more than just prepare the Hawkeyes for the challenge of an 18-game Big Ten schedule.

It gave an early boost to the Hawkeyes' NCAA Tournament resume.

Iowa opens Big Ten play today with an RPI rating in the top 10, boosted by a strength of schedule in the top 30.

"Our nonconference schedule was really challenging this year," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "Our RPI is really good, our schedule strength is high and that shows we've challenged ourselves."

The Hawkeyes take their first steps on their Big Ten Conference journey against Penn State.

Last year's Big Ten regular-season co-champion, the Nittany Lions are just 3-8 this season.

After a season-opening win the Nittany Lions lost six in a row before splitting their last four games entering conference play.

Penn State is led by Lindsey Spann, a 5-foot-6 redshirt freshman guard averaging 15.6 points per game.

Sophomore Sierra Moore is averaging 12.6 points for the Nittany Lions while 6-foot-6 junior center Candice Agee is averaging 11.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.

Penn State has scuffled early and is coming off a 90-87 overtime loss to South Florida, but Iowa still expects a battle from a Nittany Lions team that hasn't lost more than five conference games in a season since 2010.

"We know it is so competitive and it's going to be great games night in and night out," Iowa senior Melissa Dixon said. "We are really looking forward to the Big Ten season.

Iowa enters Big Ten play with five players averaging in double figures, led by Disterhoft's 15.5 points per game.

Dixon, fresh off a 31-point outburst in the win over Drake, is averaging 14.6 points per game while Samantha Logic, Bethany Doolittle and Whitney Jennings follow with 11.4, 10.9 and 10.5 respectively. .

"Our Big Ten schedule is crazy if you look at it so we are just looking at it one game at a time," Dixon said. "We have to control what we can control."

Reach Ryan Murken at 339-7369 or rmurken@press-citizen.com.


Iowa (9-2, 0-0) vs. Penn State (3-8, 0-0)

Specifics — 2 p.m. Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City

Following the game — Radio: KXIC (800 AM), WMT (AM 600), WHO (1040 AM) Hawkeye Radio Network. Live scoring: www.hawkeyesports.com.

Preview — Iowa opens Big Ten play at home before starting the new year with back-to-back conference road games. Penn State is 52-13 in Big Ten games over the past four seasons but is off to a 3-8 start this year and is 0-2 on the road this season.