By John Bohnenkamp
The Iowa women’s basketball team got in 30 preseason practices this season — the usual number in a normal season, a gift during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Every one, coach Lisa Bluder said, was important.
“We really needed all of those practices,” Bluder said earlier this week.
Iowa opens its season Wednesday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena against Northern Iowa, a team with more experience that beat the Hawkeyes by 22 points last season.
In a normal season, the Hawkeyes play a couple of games in which they figured to get easy wins before getting into the meat of the nonconference schedule that always includes the other three in-state teams that always provide difficulties.
There won’t be any game video of opponents to dissect. It’s the opener, it’s the Panthers, and it’s the beginning of a 24-game sprint to March that could have any number of detours.
“This UNI team is obviously really good,” Bluder said. “They gave us all we could handle, plus more, at their place last year.”
Iowa’s schedule looks different this season. It’s 20 Big Ten games, the three in-state schools — UNI, Drake, and Iowa State — and Western Illinois.
“I think we’re going to be really good this year,” Bluder said. “It may take us time, I don’t know how long, because of how young we are. But we’re just ready to compete.”
Iowa’s expected starting lineup for the opener — and Bluder said it was written “in pencil” — will be freshman Caitlin Clark at point guard, sophomore Gabbie Marshall at the ‘2’, third-year sophomore Kate Martin and sophomore McKenna Warnock at the two forward spots, and junior center Monika Czinano.
That’s a young lineup — Iowa’s only seniors are guards Alexis Sevillian and Zion Sanders — but Bluder appreciates the depth of the roster.
“I love how well we can shoot the ball,” Bluder said. “And I really like the balance we have.”
Bluder said the rotation may consist of 10 players, especially early in the season.
It’s not a season of tune-ups and games to get through and move on.
And it will have to be played in empty arenas, which won’t help the Hawkeyes, who have won 36 consecutive home games.
“We talk a lot about bringing our own energy,” Bluder said. “You are not going to have Carver-Hawkeye Arena to get you revved up. So you’ve got to do it yourself.”
Photo: Iowa forward McKenna Warnock forces a jump ball in a game against Penn State last season. (Darren Miller/hawkeyesports.com)