Iowa Women's Basketball

Iowa women's basketball can earn a share of the Big Ten lead Sunday. How did the Hawkeyes get here?

Key factors in a 12-3 start: Veteran guards, Amanda Ollinger's maturity, the Jensen-Czinano connection

Iowa assistant women's basketball coach Jan Jensen talks with Monika Czinano (25) on the bench during the Hawkeyes' win
Iowa assistant women's basketball coach Jan Jensen talks with Monika Czinano (25) on the bench during the Hawkeyes' win over Drake on Dec. 21. Jensen's tutelage on Czinano has been one of the major reasons the Hawkeyes are 12-3 heading into their showdown with 12th-ranked Indiana on Sunday. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Lisa Bluder left Carver-Hawkeye Arena around 1 a.m. Friday, her staff about 45 minutes later.

The glow of Thursday’s night’s conquest of No. 17 Maryland was still a glimmer, but the preparation for the next game had already begun.

A big game.

Iowa (12-3, 3-1 Big Ten) hosts 12th-ranked Indiana (14-2, 4-0) at 4 p.m. Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Win, and the Hawkeyes are tied for first place in the Big Ten.

Who’d have thought?

“Everybody saw what we lost last year,” Bluder said in a teleconference Friday, referring to 2019 consensus national player of the year Megan Gustafson, along with Tania Davis and Hannah Stewart.

“They focused on that, and I was concerned about it too. But our focus this summer (shifted to) what we had returning.”

The Hawkeyes have passed the halfway mark of the regular season — 15 games down, 14 to go. Other than a clunker at Northern Iowa in November, they have exceeded expectations.

How?

Veteran guards

Despite the departure of Davis, Bluder knew she had the makings of a strong backcourt in seniors Kathleen Doyle (a preseason all-Big Ten selection) and Makenzie Meyer, along with junior Alexis Sevillian.

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Those three combined for 56 points against Maryland. Doyle is the reigning Big Ten player of the week.

“Kathleen is the pulse of the team, the heartbeat,” Bluder said. “Her role changed; we’re counting on her more and using her more.”

Sevillian’s shooting had been spotty at best for most of the first half of the season, but her late 3-pointer — and a basket following moments later — helped push the Hawkeyes past Maryland.

Amanda Ollinger's maturity

A role player for the first three years, Cedar Rapids native Amanda Ollinger has blossomed in her final season. She’s never going to be a big scorer, but she is shooting nearly 60 percent from the field. She is averaging 10.6 rebounds in the past eight games, and she blocked eight shots Thursday.

“Amanda is relishing this opportunity, taking full advantage of it,” Bluder said. “She is playing significant minutes for the first time, and making the most of it. She is more confident. She is speaking more in the locker room, and I know her voice is being heard. I love that.”

An engineering major, Ollinger has a job awaiting her at Collins Aerospace and already has purchased a house in Marion.

“She’s kind of got it together, doesn’t she?” Bluder said.

Jan Jensen: The post whisperer, and her new pupil

Associate head coach Jan Jensen has been on Bluder’s staff 20 years at Iowa, and before that at Drake. She has been a magician in developing post talent.

“I’ve always thought Jan has gotten the most out of our posts, whether it was Jamie Cavey or Morgan Johnson,” Bluder said. “Now we’re getting higher level posts out of high school, and people understand what Jan is doing.

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Jensen was instrumental in the development of Gustafson. And now Monika Czinano is ascending. The sophomore is averaging 14.9 points per game and is shooting 71.3 percent from the field.

“I love what I do,” Jensen said. “It’s a credit to the young women who care and play for us. I do better with a certain post personality. They work hard and are receptive. Most come in and are pretty eager.

“It’s not snazzy and sexy. It’s down and dirty. It takes a special person that wants to do that, and get beat up to do it.”

Czinano got schooled regularly by Gustafson in practice last year. Now she’s the center of attention.

“Her growth from Year 1 to Year 2 has been the biggest surprise, the most welcome surprise,” Bluder said.

Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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