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Big Ten Season Awaits Hawkeyes
Iowa hits the road for conference opener at Penn State
Senior Kachine Alexander and the Iowa women's basketball team will open Big Ten play at Penn State on Thursday.
Senior Kachine Alexander and the Iowa women's basketball team will open Big Ten play at Penn State on Thursday.
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Dec. 28, 2010

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IOWA CITY, Iowa -- After finishing the nonconference portion of its schedule with a 12-1 record, the Iowa women's basketball team is preparing to begin its "second season" on the road at Penn State on Thursday night.

"It's a whole new season," said senior Kachine Alexander, who is just 23 points shy of joining the 1,000-point club. "I don't want to say that we forget about our nonconference, but it's kind of in the back of our minds now. We've established that whole thing, but now we're in the Big Ten season. It's kind of like you're 0-0 now."

The Hawkeyes seem like a team with the right mindset as they head to University Park, Pa., for a Thursday night match-up against the Nittany Lions (6 p.m. - BigTenNetwork.com). The team came back from the holiday break energized and looking forward to jumping over the next hurdle in the season.

A Penn State squad that averages 85.8 points per game is next on the schedule for the Hawkeyes. The Nittany Lions are a transition waiting to happen, as they run up-and-down the floor in to being the sixth highest scoring team in the nation.

"I can't believe how many points they are putting up," said UI head coach Lisa Bluder at her weekly press conference at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. "They are averaging 85 points a game. That's got to be the best in the Big Ten -- it could be the best in the country.

"They are shooting the ball extremely well, 44 percent from three-point range; 46 percent from two-point range; their leading scorer comes off the bench, she's a freshman and this is a really big challenge for us."

Bluder feels like her team is up to the Big Ten challenge, as the nonconference slate has prepared her squad for the rigors of league play. The Hawkeyes answered nearly every call early in the season, as the team is off to its best start since the 2004-05 season. The squad is also ranked 13th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll and 14th in the AP poll, which are highs for the program in the Bluder era.

"I feel like we did a really good job in the nonconference season, finishing 12-1, with our one loss being to a ranked opponent (North Carolina)," said Bluder. "I feel like we have really prepared ourselves (for Big Ten play). We have played on the road; we have played against athletic teams; we've played against fast teams.

"Now the proof is in the pudding kind of and we'll see what happens."

The Hawkeyes, who were picked to finish second in the preseason poll, enter league play with Big Ten title aspirations. To keep that dream alive, Iowa must get off to a good start, especially now that the conference schedule has been trimmed from 18 to 16 games. Each team will now have four schools that they will only face once during the season (Michigan, Purdue, Northwestern, Wisconsin).

"We would like to continue what we have been doing and play well all the way through," said Bluder. "If you want to be Big Ten champion, that's what you have to do. It's really hard to make up ground when we're playing only 16 games this year. There's less opportunity to make up if you get way behind, too.

"We definitely want to start out the season right - that's what we talk about going into this game, how important this game is, just starting out on the right foot. We know it is tough going in there to play at Penn State."

"We're ready for this," said Kamille Wahlin, who is averaging 12.4 points per game. "It's that time of year to get going and it's going to be a good test right off the bat to go on the road and play a team like Penn State.

"We have to take everyone seriously," continued Wahlin. "People are going to be ready for us. They know what we're about now, so we just have to make sure we play our game and stay focused."

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