CHICAGO — Iowa women's basketball coach Lisa Bluder has felt more comfortable as an underdog than the favorite. In fact, it was unusual for her to see her squad considered one of the Big Ten's best entering the 2010-11 season.
"It's a different situation for us coming in," she said. "I don't know that we've ever been picked to finish second in the Big Ten, and we know obviously it's all preseason, really garbage and trivia. But at the same time it really has to change the mentality of our team."
Big Ten coaches and media picked Iowa for second in the annual preseason polls behind defending league champion Ohio State. The expectations represent a complete turnaround from last season, when Iowa started 1-6 in league play but won nine of its last 11 league games to finish tied for third in the league standings. The Hawkeyes lost 66-64 to the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Tournament finale and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
"There's no one on this team that has been in that position," said Iowa senior guard Kachine Alexander. "We've always come from behind. So playing with a target on your back is a completely different game than not having anything to worry about.
"We kind of knew that after last season. We've been preparing for it all summer long and in the preseason."
It wasn't an easy turnaround last year after Iowa battled multiple injuries along with the poor league start. The Hawkeyes face a similar prognosis this year, losing Theairra Taylor for the season with her third ACL injury in 20 months. Back-up point guard Trisha Nesbitt is out indefinitely with plantar fasciitis. Bluder said Thursday she was unsure how long Nesbitt would be out. Off-guard Jaime Printy would back up Kamille Wahlin at the point.
But both Bluder and Alexander say the expectations will harden the team and point it toward competing at a high level.
"Our team is used to kind of sneaking up on people and kind of people taking us lightly, and now our attitude has got to change," Bluder said. "We worked on that this summer, going from being the hunters to being the hunted. It's a different attitude that think an athlete has to have."
The Hawkeyes return all five starters from a 20-win team, Alexander knew the expectations were high. Even following a 96-67 loss at No. 2 Stanford in the NCAA Tournament, the team was excited about this year's potential."We were down but at the same time we knew we had everyone back, including the people who were hurt last year," Alexander said. "So we were even more excited after we lost. We were like wow, next season is going to be like ..."