Whitney Jennings back on track for Hawkeyes
There was a short stretch last month where Whitney Jennings felt a little lost on a basketball court for the first time in a while.
One of the top prep scorers in Indiana state history and a 9.1 point-per-game scorer as a freshman, Jennings lost her shooting touch.
The 5-foot-5 sophomore, who had appeared in the starting lineup 37 straight games, lost her starting spot for two contests.
Most importantly, the first-year starting point guard lost a little bit of the confidence that makes her among the most dynamic scorers on the Iowa roster.
“It was a tough stretch for me,” Jennings said of the five-game stretch in nonconference play which she hit nine of 41 field goal attempts. “I wasn’t playing as well or as confidently as I can, and that was frustrating.”
Never lost was the confidence of Jennings' coaches and teammates, and over the last several weeks Jennings has showed why.
After averaging 5.9 points per game and failing to reach double figures anywhere in that stretch, Jennings has scored 10 or more points in four of the past six games.
Jennings is averaging 10 points per game over that span and has scored double figures in each of her last two games, including 11 points in Wednesday’s 57-54 win at Wisconsin.
“I’ve never lost faith in Whitney. She is a spectacular player, and every time she takes a shot I think it’s going in,” junior Ally Disterhoft said. “I have that confidence in her, our coaches have that confidence in her. It’s really just about her stepping up and believing in herself too.”
Scoring was rarely a problem for Jennings.
She shot 39 percent from the field while averaging 9.1 points in nearly 31 minutes per game last year as a freshman.
This season, Jennings picked up where she left off, averaging 8.5 points in Iowa’s first six games of the season while making the switch from the off guard to the point guard spot.
Then came a rare slump. The low point of the five-game slump was a 0-for-7 shooting performance in a road loss to Iowa State that left Jennings and Iowa coaches looking for answers.
“Lots of time when you are a great shooter, a great scorer and it’s not going your way, it’s between your ears and you are thinking about something too much,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “We just said go back to the basic fundamentals and I think that’s what you have to do in those types of situations.”
Jennings came off the bench to score eight points in a win over Bradley and followed that up with 15 points in a win over Drake.
Over the holiday break, Jennings went home and took her own small break from the game.
Jennings came back for Big Ten play better than ever.
“I think she is back to the Whitney that we want,” Bluder said. “Obviously, she is shooting the ball better, and she just looks in more control out there.”
Jennings is averaging 9.0 points per game in Big Ten play while helping Iowa to a 3-2 mark to open the Big Ten campaign.
Perhaps more importantly, Jennings has significantly improved her assist to turnover ratio. In 12 non-conference games Jennings had 35 assists and 27 turnovers. But she has 17 assists and just nine turnovers in conference play.
“It was definitely an adjustment early on just figuring out when do I run the offense, when do I look for my shot?” Jennings said. “Things were churning in my head a little more than they were last year, but I feel a lot more comfortable out there since Big Ten has started.”
The strong results of late have helped her confidence, but according to Jennings, her coaching staff and teammates took care of that themselves.
“Definitely seeing the ball go through the hoop helps your offensive confidence, but I think just knowing how much confidence coach Bluder has in me and how much she believes in me helps,” Jennings said. “Knowing they have confidence in me helps a lot.”
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.