Iowa women's basketball coach Lisa Bluder breaks down Wednesday's matchup agaiinst No. 13 Florida State. Dargan Southard / The Press-Citizen
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder, along with players Megan Gustafson, Kathleen Doyle and Alexis Sevillian met with the media Monday following the Hawkeyes’ productive showing over Thanksgiving break.
As part of the Puerto Rico Classic, which was rerouted to Fort Lauderdale after the fall’s wave of hurricanes, Iowa knocked off Morgan State (90-46), Charlotte (77-64) and Elon (74-61) to push its record to 7-0.
The Hawkeyes’ competition, though, takes a substantial step up this week, when Bluder’s squad hosts No. 13 Florida State (6-0) on Wednesday at 7 p.m. as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Here are some of the key takeaways and observations from Monday’s press conference:
'Nightmare' matchup headlines stout Florida State
Those who set the Big Ten/ACC Challenge pairings haven’t let up on the Hawkeyes in recent seasons, and this year is no different. Wednesday marks the fourth time since the 2013-14 campaign that Iowa has faced a ranked opponent in the challenge, most recently getting No. 1 Notre Dame in Carver-Hawkeye Arena last year.
“I haven’t seen anybody from the bottom part of the ACC lately,” Bluder joked. “So I’m not sure who does the matchups, but I’d like to have a talk with them about that, because, again, we’re playing one of the best ACC teams.”
After blowout wins over North Florida, Jacksonville State, Florida, Grambling, Sacred Heart and Samford, the Seminoles enter averaging 92 points per game, good for sixth nationally and tops in the conference. Florida State has cracked triple digits twice and boasts five double-figure scorers, led by preseason all-ACC selection Shakayla Thomas.
The 5-foot-11 senior, who starts at small forward but can also switch to the four, is averaging 21 points in just under 26 minutes per game, having shown the ability to dominate down low from all angles.
She’ll be atop the Iowa scouting report come Wednesday.
“A nightmare to match up with,” Bluder said. “She is so strong. She is somebody who we need to keep the ball out of her hands if we can, because she’s going to do a lot of damage when she gets the ball in her hands.
“And again, we just don’t have a great person to match up with her. She is a huge guard who is strong and can post up like any post player who we’ve went against. So she will play some four, but she’ll start at the small forward for them. Strong rebounder, incredible driver who can really, really use her body and strength well to score.”
Kathleen Doyle will likely draw the primary defensive assignment, but Bluder acknowledged that it’ll be a team effort in trying to slow the dynamic Thomas.
Doyle, though, isn’t backing down.
“Playing against a great scorer like her, it really motivates me,” the sophomore guard said. “I’m really excited to try to do some damage on the defensive end during the game on Wednesday, so it’ll be a really good challenge.
“I’ll make sure I watch my film on her, and hopefully, make her night rough for her.”
Iowa's Kathleen Doyle talks about the intriguing challenge of facing No. 13 Florida State. Dargan Southard / The Press-Citizen
Speaking of Doyle, Iowa seemingly dodged an early-season bullet with her ankle injury, which only sidelined her for two games after she went down against Western Kentucky on Nov. 11.
The 5-foot-9 guard missed home contests against Northern Illinois and Western Michigan, but Doyle returned once Iowa picked things up in Florida, slowly easing her way back into action. She played 15 minutes off the bench against Morgan State last Wednesday, upped that to 27 versus Charlotte on Thanksgiving and was eventually back in the starting lineup by trip’s end, logging 32 minutes against Elon.
“Any time you get hurt coming back from injury, you’re just a little bit out of rhythm (to start),” said Doyle, who combined for 14 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds in the three games. “But I’m not worried about it. I’m excited to be back out there, and my teammates picked me up.”
Sevillian filled in during Doyle ‘s starting-lineup absence and repeatedly delivered, scoring in the double figures three times while averaging 30 minutes per game. The redshirt freshman didn’t stop even after Doyle reclaimed her spot, pouring in 21 points in 23 minutes off the bench during Saturday’s win over Elon.
Iowa's Alexis Sevillian discusses the lofty challenge No. 13 Florida State presents. Dargan Southard / The Press-Citizen
'It’s good that they’re coming to our house'
Having already beaten three 2017 NCAA Tournament teams in Quinnipiac, Western Kentucky and Elon, the Hawkeyes have certainly front-loaded the schedule with now a ranked foe coming in.
But a win over Florida State would be another notch. Iowa hasn’t beaten a ranked nonconference foe since the 2013-14 season, when it knocked off then-No. 22 Syracuse and then-No. 14 Dayton in less than a month. However, three of the Hawkeyes’ last four ranked nonconference wins have come at home, including the aforementioned two.
“We have great fans here,” Sevillian said. “It’s good that they’re coming to our house so we can take them down on our court.”
Dargan Southard covers preps, recruiting, Iowa and UNI athletics for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.