Whitney Jennings shines in her NCAA Tournament debut

Ryan Murken
Iowa’s Whitney Jennings (15) aims a 3-point shot against American during the first half of play Friday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Jennings scored 16 points in her first NCAA Tournament game.

NCAA Tournament games are nothing new for the veteran seniors on Iowa's roster.

The lone Hawkeye making her NCAA Tournament debut looked a lot more like a seasoned senior than a wide-eyed freshman on Friday.

Whitney Jennings had 16 points in her first NCAA Tournament game as third-seeded Iowa (25-7) advanced to the second round of the tournament for the third straight year with a 75-67 win over American at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

"I wasn't too nervous," Jennings said. "I've had 30 games under my belt now so I was good."

Jennings was better than good on Friday — she was nearly perfect.

The freshman guard missed just one shot, going 4-of-5 from the field, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range.

Jennings added two rebounds and two assists and had no turnovers in the win.

"She didn't play like a freshman today and she has a whole year of playing, so you could say she is a sophomore now," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "As much as she has played this year she's got some experience."

The 16 points for Jennings on Friday was her highest point total since scoring 16 in a win at Northwestern on Jan. 29.

Her 16-point performance also came after the freshman struggled to a 1-of-15 mark from the field in a pair of games in the Big Ten Tournament.

Between a loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals and Friday's NCAA opener, Bluder gave her team some time off.

Jennings, who was last year's Indiana Miss Basketball and the fifth highest scorer in state history while playing at Logansport High School, came back from that break a different player.

"We gave them a little time off, and I thought she came back with a kind of different attitude," Bluder said. "I think our little Logansport girl went back to the Berry Bowl (her high school gym) and got a feel back for what it feels like to put the ball in the hole."

Jennings showed early on Friday she wasn't intimidate by the tournament atmosphere.

She hit a 3-pointer on the Hawkeyes' opening possession just 21 seconds into the game to give Iowa an early lead.

"I've been playing the whole season so I feel pretty comfortable out there but it always helps to see a shot go through the net," Jennings said. "I tried to play with that confidence the rest of the game."

Jennings then helped put the game away by hitting four free throws in the final 39 seconds.

The freshman finished 6-of-6 from the free-throw line.

"We are definitely comfortable with her up there," Ally Disterhoft said of Jennings. "She is a great shooter and she's had a little bit of experience with that now, she has hit some big free throws in some big games this season."

Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or rmurken@press-citizen.com and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.