Iowa forward Megan Gustafson shoots a free throw during the Iowa/Samford basketball game in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017. The Hawkeyes defeated the Bulldogs, 80-59. (Lily Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Hawkeyes stronger on the court together

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Winter often causes people to huddle together for warmth, and the Iowa women’s basketball team took a similar concept to the court to fuel its red-hot start.

By Jordan Zuniga

jordan-zuniga@uiowa.edu

Optimism is abundant in every team at the start of each season. That only heightens when the team jumps out to a 9-1 start, just like the Iowa women’s basketball team.

It’s a start that the Hawkeyes are no stranger to; they’ve started 9-1 or better nine times in their 43-year history, four times under current head coach Lisa Bluder.

Yet even Bluder — the dean of Big Ten coaches — sees something extra special in this year’s squad.

“It’s not about themselves it’s about the team and that’s hard to get and this team gets it,” Bluder said. “You feel it, you feel it in the locker room, you see it in their eyes, you see it in the way they really care about each other and are genuinely excited about their team’s success.”

The team’s already tight bond wrapped itself even tighter Wednesday night after a 61-55 win in Ames, the Hawkeyes’ first victory in Hilton in 28 years.

Yet the win didn’t mean so much because it erased an old ghost, it meant more to the players that they were able to win for assistant coach Jan Jensen.

“This team was honestly so happy to [win] for Coach Jensen on her birthday,” Bluder said. “That’s when you know your kids are playing for something other than themselves. Kids like that are hard to find.”

After the game, the players proceeded to turn Jensen into a Panchero’s burrito, lifting her up and down in jubilation while singing “Happy Birthday.”

However, the bond is not kept within the boundaries of basketball court; even off the court, these women can often be found all in one pod.

“Off the court, we’re a team [too],” Tania Davis said. “We’re always inviting people to go to the mall, to the movies — we know everyone’s class schedule. I definitely think off court chemistry transferred to on the court.”

This kind of chemistry is how a team averages 24.1 assists per game, which is good for best in the country.

Leading the nation in assists is impressive on its own, but more impressive is that Iowa isn’t relying on only one player for those assists.

Individually, Iowa only has one player ranked top 50 in the nation in assists per game —  Davis, who is ranked 37th.

Nine Hawkeyes have at least 10 assists on the year, while four of them have 20. The Hawkeyes have found a way to make the most unselfish of stats, even more selfless.

Iowa’s high assist totals is just more evidence to the team-first identity of this team has not only made this young season a successful one, but fun as well.

“When everybody just cares about the team winning, it’s really fun to play basketball that way, and we’ve been really successful with that this season,” Kathleen Doyle said.

Iowa hopes the chemistry can continue to flourish throughout the season and turn into a NCAA Tournament berth.

More immediately, the Hawkeyes turn their attention toward Arkansas-Pine Bluff, which they face Saturday at 2 p.m., in Carver-Hawkeye.

It will be the team’s last game before the break and its third-to-last non-conference opponent.

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