IOWA CITY — Bluder’s best? Potentially.
“It has all the capability to be,” Coach Lisa Bluder said at Iowa women’s basketball media day Wednesday morning at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “It definitely has the potential.”
If you believe the preseason magazines and the pollsters — the Hawkeyes have a preseason designation of No. 8 nationally by Street & Smith, No. 12 by Athlon and No. 13 by the Associated Press — this could be a special season. Maybe the best of Bluder’s 19 seasons in Iowa City.
And the Hawkeyes aren’t shying away from expectations.
“There’s so much potential,” Makenzie Meyer said. “We have two goals, to win the Big Ten championship and to make it to the Elite Eight, at least.”
The last Big Ten title came in 2007-08. The most recent extended NCAA tournament run came in 2015, when the Hawkeyes reached the Sweet 16.
Iowa was 24-8 last season, but dropped its final two games — against Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament, then against Creighton in the first round of the NCAA.
Kathleen Doyle saw the AP ranking Wednesday before media day. The Hawkeyes haven’t been higher since 1997.
“It’s super cool,” she said. “I’m excited that some people are giving us respect. Hopefully, we can go earn some more.”
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Why the sky-high optimism? Well, Iowa returns 86.5 percent of its scoring from last season. Four starters are back, led by consensus all-American Megan Gustafson.
A 6-foot-3 senior and the preseason Big Ten player of the year, Gustafson led the nation in scoring (25.7 points) and field-goal percentage (.671) last season.
She is on track to become the school’s all time leading scorer and rebounder.
“I think I’m more agile and more explosive this year,” she said. “I can tell I’m jumping higher.”
Doyle (11.1 points, 6.6 assists per game), a junior guard, joins Gustafson on the preseason all-Big Ten team. Another junior, Meyer added 10.8 ppg and was the Hawkeyes’ most consistent long-range threat.
The Hawkeyes’ key, though, lies in a knee ... the left one of senior Tania Davis (9.7 ppg).
She tore the ACL last December after suffering a similar fate in her right knee the previous year.
“I’d like to be out there with my teammates more,” Davis said. “Sometimes I just have to back off. It’s a little frustrating right now, but in the big picture, what I want is to be out there for a full season.”
Davis did not play for the Hawkeyes in their secret scrimmage with Creighton, and Bluder said she may hold her out of the exhibition Tuesday against Dakota Wesleyan.
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“She’s doing almost everything, but we’re not pushing the envelope,” Bluder said. “I just don’t feel we need to at this point.”
If Davis isn’t ready, sophomore Alexis Sevillian (8.7 ppg) will start in her place until she is.
Senior Hannah Stewart (7.3 ppg) will fill the starting slot at power forward. She and junior Amanda Ollinger are the second- and third-leading returning rebounders, behind Gustafson.
“Everybody is lying if they say they don’t want to start,” Stewart said. “Teams are going to double- and triple-team Megan. She’s the best scorer in the country. So that’s going to open up a lot of opportunities for me, and for everybody else.”
The Hawkeyes’ regular-season begins Nov. 9, at home against Oral Roberts.
Iowa women's basketball 2018-19
Coach: Lisa Bluder (19th season at Iowa, 367-210; 35th season overall, 723-352)
Last year: 24-8 (11-5 in Big Ten), lost in first round of NCAA tournament
Top returners: C Megan Gustafson, G Kathleen Doyle, G Makenzie Meyer, G Tania Davis, G Alexis Sevillian, F Hannah Stewart
Key losses: F Chase Coley
Newcomers to watch: F/C Monika Czinano, F Logan Cook, G Tomi Taiwo
Schedule highlights: Nov. 6 — Dakota Wesleyan, 7 p.m. (exhibition); Nov. 9 — Oral Roberts (season opener), 7 p.m.; Nov. 29 — at Notre Dame (Big Ten/ACC Challenge), 6 p.m.; Dec. 5 — Iowa State, 7 p.m.; Dec. 16 — UNI, 2 p.m.; Dec. 21 — at Drake, 6 p.m.; Dec. 30 — at Michigan State (Big Ten opener); Jan. 3 — Nebraska (Big Ten home opener), 7 p.m.; Feb. 17 — Maryland, noon; March 6-10 — at Big Ten tournament, Indianapolis
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