Inside Iowa Hoops with Karen Schulte

After a 13-0 start, the Hawkeye women have dropped three of their last four games with a game at Purdue coming up on Sunday. Our women's hoops expert Karen Schulte - the team's radio color voice - analyzes what's been happing with the Iowa Ladies in this HN.com Premium Q&A.

What's the difference between this Iowa team and how the Hawks were playing earlier in the season?

The biggest thing is maybe a reality check. The level of competition has picked up on a more consistent basis.

Having said that, it's not like the teams that Iowa played in the nonconference portion of the schedule were slackers. But now, especially recently with this stretch of Big Ten Games, game in and game out the Hawks are being pushed more. They're being tested more. They have more on their plate as far as scouting other teams and trying to come up with defensive schemes.

It just seems as though that first loss at home against Penn State was just such a shock. It showed the team that they can't get behind against good, quality competition that way. It just takes too much to come back. They're a much better team when they're playing out in front of somebody.

What happened to them against Penn State I don't want to think that it was them overlooking the Nittany Lions at all with Michigan State and Ohio State coming up. But that was one the Hawks needed to have knowing that you have to protect your home court in the Big Ten this year.

I know that's kind of a cliche and it goes without saying. But you have to protect your home court. And then that kind of just opened their eyes and bruised their confidence a little bit and maybe started playing with their minds a little bit.

It was just a different kind of team, a different kind of an effort at Michigan State. Bluder tweaked the lineup there a bit, but they have just have not been on the same page. Even the win against Northwestern, as far as I'm concerned, did nothing but hurt the confidence of this team even more.

Where do you feel their confidence is right now?

The team right now is performing much like I and probably everybody expected them to perform at the beginning of the year.

There's a lot of uncertainty at different positions. Even though Crystal Smith was a proven player, a proven leader on this team early on, now I don't know that you know that game in and game out. You don't know where her points could come from, if they're going to come from anywhere.

She goes to Ohio State and gets three shots attempts on the night and then she turns around and has a nice double figure game against Northwestern. But for that stretch of 13 games when the Hawks were going ballistic, Crystal Smith was a feared player. She, along with Cavey, was a marked woman.

Right now, she's a little uncertain of her role. She's playing out of position maybe a little bit now that she has to share point guard responsibilities. Her confidence is shaken. And I would say also at the three position, Johanna Solverson hasn't been as consistent as the Hawkeyes need her to be. She needs to be getting points for Iowa.

How do they get it back more towards how they were playing earlier in the year?

In talking with Bluder (Sunday) after the game, she said that it's going to help them this week getting back to a more normal schedule and getting back to class and having something other than basketball to think about.

Maybe the pressure got to them. It is still a young team. And being the last major undefeated team in the country maybe overwhelmed them just a little bit. And once they got that first loss, they were shaken a little bit.

Now, if Iowa can go to Purdue this weekend and have a nice performance there...In my opinion, it would be an upset if they beat the Boilermakers on their home floor. It's a tough arena to play in. If they could come out of there with a win, then all of a sudden they're back in that mental mode that's almost like we don't know any different than winning.

But if the Hawkeyes go to Purdue and don't play well, and it's going to be tough to play well there, they're going to be in a little bit of a tailspin because even coming home against Michigan the Hawks haven't played very good ball at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. I hate to say it.

I don't want to say that this Purdue game is do or die because it's not. But it's a pivotal point. The Northwestern game could have gotten them back on the right track in terms of mindset and momentum, but that hurt them more than anything.

With how well the Hawkeyes played in staying undefeated for so long, is there even a chance to get a moral victory in West Lafayette or is a win the only thing that fixes things?

That's a hard question to answer. Just knowing that winning was the tell-all factor early on, I mean you win or you lose and the Hawks were doing a whole bunch of winning. Now the losses have been back-to-back-to-back.

Granted, 14-3 is a great record. And there are a lot of teams in the country that would love to be 14-3. The problem is the nature that (the losses) came. Michigan State and Ohio State, those were two games that were tough. And it would have been a huge upset if the Hawkeyes could have won at both places.

I would have liked to see them have split that road swing. Then, they would have been considered a more legit 13-0 or Top 20 team or whatever it may have been.

But as far as them playing well against Purdue and not winning, I don't want them to settle for that. And I know that the coaching staff doesn't want them to either. But the coaching staff is maybe a little bit more gentle. They're trying to bring the team along, and they're trying not to get down on their team.

But I don't know that (playing well) would be enough. The players might become frustrated with that. They could say, look at this effort we put forth and it's still not good enough. It didn't get us a victory. We still got the same result and it's a loss.

At the beginning of the season or if you looked at it before the season in them playing well against Purdue and come close, that would have been great. But now, I don't think they want to get in the habit of playing well and getting nowhere from it.

Coach Bluder shuffled the lineup after the Penn State game. She also has pulled starters and at them for long stretches when they're playing well. How much can you do that and if someone is not playing well do you let her play through it? It's a delicate balance, I guess.

Right. My honest opinion, and here we go, I'm obviously not the coach and I'm not I'm not paid to be the coach, but I like Jenee Graham coming off the bench.

And that's not to say that she's not one of the top five players on the team. In fact, she's probably one of the top three players on the team.

However, she's great coming in as a reserve when all she had to do was coming in getting the boards for the Hawkeyes and playing defense. Now, all of a sudden, the Hawks lose to Penn State. They go on the road and Bluder switches the lineup. That's her call. She's with the women at practice. She knows better than I would.

But for a freshman to come into a situation like that and going from the three position to the one, having to remember to bring the ball up the floor, having to run the offense, having to get open, all of these additional things on her mind and guard one of their best offensive players and distribute the ball and rebound, it just seems to me that at Michigan State that was a lot for her to handle.

I don't think she has been quite as impressive in a starting role as I saw her coming in as a reserve role. That's not to say that she shouldn't have minutes. She should have a ton of minutes. I just don't know if making her one of those players that gets to be introduced was the right thing.

But that's not my call. And I certainly don't want to step on any toes there. But I do like here better in a reserve role even if it meant letting Abby Emmert stay in the starting lineup for a couple of minutes and then bring in Graham off of the bench.

I just think, you win 13 games and then you lose one and all of a sudden you change everything it may have hurt the confidence of a team that was a 13-0 team. It's like, OK, it worked well for 13 games and now we're going to change everything.

I kind of like Graham pushing Solverson at the three position. Now, I don't know if Jo has relaxed or let up a little. I know Bluder said she had an ankle injury or something like that last week.

But I don't sense that moving Jenee to the one has been all that helpful. And it's hard to say because they've been playing such good competition other than Northwestern. But I know that when this different player assignments and putting them in different roles, it's hurt Crystal Smith's game because she's having to do more thinking in sharing some point guard responsibility.

Obviously Abby Emmert's confidence is shot. She went from being a starter to playing about four minutes a game.

I wish we could just go back to the way things were before when they were winning and everybody had their role and was executing well. But like I said, that's the coaches call. They're at practice. They know what's going on better than I do.

Lindsay Richards gets hurt. April Calhoun transfers. We probably could have pointed to the PG position as one that might cause some problems. Is the play from that position the rest of the season going to determine how far the Hawks go?

The thing was, and this kind of goes back to my last answer, the point guard really was a non-factor for 13 games. Whoever was playing the one wasn't hurting us. And then you had a really strong super two player in Crystal Smith.

You had Tiffany, Jo and Jenee at the three position, a solid core of players. And then, of course, Cavey and VandeVenter and Schlapkohl at the post. It was almost as though that we're just conceding that our one is not going to get a lot of points. That's fine. She's going to get the ball to everybody else.

Now, all of a sudden because the players are being moved around a little bit, you've kind of deluded the potency of a Crystal Smith. I don't know that the point guard needs to be all that. Obviously we want her to bring up the ball and not turn it over. But I don't know in this year with this core of players that a lot of attention needs to be put on the point guard. I don't know that it's a make or break situation if Iowa has a stellar point guard.


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