Iowa women to start tinkering in Sunday's exhibition

Matthew Bain
Iowa women's basketball coach Lisa Bluder thinks point guard Tania Davis (left) can take a big leap forward as a sophomore if she becomes more vocal and more accurate from 3-point range.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Creighton women's basketball team came to Carver Hawkeye Arena last Sunday. Nobody knew about it, because nobody was supposed to.

Iowa hosted the Blue Jays, also a WNIT team last year, in a closed scrimmage meant for coaches’ eyes only.

And everything head coach Lisa Bluder saw reinforced what she already knew: Her team is young, but it’s deep. Very, very deep.

“It’s nice to see that being confirmed,” she said with a smile.

One week later, the Hawkeyes will play an open scrimmage as they host Division II’s Lewis University this Sunday at 2 p.m.

At media availability Thursday, Bluder said she doesn’t have a definite starting five yet. She’s got a general idea of who those top five might be, but she wants to see how different pieces fit together in a game setting.

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“With our team, we’re kind of going to evolve all year in finding those best pieces, because we have so many to work with,” she said. “When you don’t have as many to work with, it really is easy, right? Just put in what you have.

“Now, when you have so many people that you can play, coaching decisions and time management, their legs and those things, (all) kind of come into play a little bit more.”

So, who are those pieces? You’ve got to pencil in Ally Disterhoft, Tania Davis, Megan Gustafson and Chase Coley as the first four starters. Disterhoft and Davis are all-conference-caliber guards, Gustafson is one of the conference’s more exciting underclassmen and Coley’s savvy at center gives her a prominent role in Bluder’s system.

Then there’s Alexa Kastanek, Hannah Stewart, Christina Buttenham, Hailey Schneden, Carly Mohns (who Bluder hopes will be healthy by December) and the five freshmen: Makenzie Meyer, Kathleen Doyle, Alexis Sevillian, Amanda Ollinger and Bre Cera.

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“We’re putting together templates right now of how we’re going to sort out those minutes,” Bluder said. “And it might be a situation where Ally, Tania and Megan don’t get as many minutes as they were averaging last year, but I hope their minutes will be more quality minutes. I hope they’ll be fresher in the fourth quarter, I hope they’ll be fresher at the end of the season.”

Safe bet says Meyer or Doyle snag that fifth starter spot for most of the year.

Of the heralded freshmen class, those two are probably the headliners. They’re both the “Miss Basketball” from their state (Doyle from Illinois, Meyer from Iowa) and can apparently switch from the point guard to off guard positions seamlessly — which they’ll have to do all year.

“I really just want to see them get comfortable (Sunday),” Bluder said. “Get comfortable out there so that when we tip it up for real a week from now, they’ll be ready for that.”

One arm? No problem

Davis had surgery on her left shoulder in April, so she pretty much had one functioning arm this offseason. Not so fun.

Here’s the silver lining, though: With only her right hand to use, she was forced to develop her shooting form and mostly abandon her left guide hand. And that might have unlocked a smooth long-range stroke.

At media day, Davis said her 3-point shooting percentages are higher than her field goal percentages during practice. Last season she shot 40.3 percent from the field and 26.3 percent from beyond the arc.

“That’s so exciting to me, just to be able to show off my offensive ability that I’ve been working on this past offseason,” Davis said. “It really fires me up just to know what I can do and to go out there Sunday, and show the fans and the world what I can do, it’s pretty awesome.”

Bluder called Davis one of her top 3-point shooters this year, and she said Davis’ confidence is noticeably higher. She said Davis is taking ownership of the team, whereas she often deferred to upperclassmen last season.

Over in Maryland ...

Teams have the option to play two exhibitions before the season. Many, like Iowa, choose to play one scrimmage against Division I talent (which must be closed to the public) before hosting a non-D-I school in front of a crowd.

Some, like Maryland, choose to play two open exhibitions against non-D-I schools. So, the fifth-ranked Terrapins entertained some people with a basketball game Wednesday.

At least, it kind of looked like a basketball game.

The opponent: Bluefield State College, a D-II school from the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

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The final score: 146-17. Bluefield State did not score a single point in the second half.

Iowa’s D-II exhibition opponent is Lewis University — the polar opposite of Bluefield.

Lewis enters the season ranked No. 20 in the D-II coaches poll and it returns two preseason All-America honorable mention guards. It also boasts Gabby Green, a guard who transferred over from D-I Bradley University. It spent the whole season ranked in the top 10 last year.

“It doesn’t count on your schedule, so you might as well play the toughest opponent you can that’s going to help you prepare for the year,” Bluder said. “We feel that playing top Division II schools will do that.”

The Hawkeyes might — just might — win by less than 129.

Looking to Chicago for inspiration

Like most of Iowa City, Bluder is a Cubs fan. And like most of Iowa City, she was up late Wednesday night chewing through her nails as the Cubs won their first World Series since 1908.

Bluder said her young Hawkeyes could use the Cubbies as a model.

“When I look at that game, I think of how young they were, that team. And how exuberant they were and they just believed, right?” she said. “Sometimes when you’re young, you don’t know what you can’t do, and I think that was a great example of it last night. I think with our team, we’re kind of mirroring that.

“They’re young, they’re having fun. They think they can accomplish anything and lots of times those things actually come true.”

Bain covers Iowa women's hoops for HawkCentral, the Iowa City Press-Citizen and Des Moines Register. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.