SOUTH BEND, Ind. – The Iowa Hawkeyes sat in a cramped, congested locker room at the Joyce Center early Sunday afternoon. They ate from a hot buffet table.
They coped, and they reflected.
“I’ve had a lot of good times, a lot of good memories,” said senior Kelly Krei. “I was proud to wear an Iowa uniform the last four years.”
This year’s Iowa team was a lot like last year’s Iowa team, and one before that …
The last five seasons have netted records of 21-11, 21-11, 20-14, 22-9 and 19-12. The Hawkeyes have gone to five straight NCAA tournaments, but have advanced out of the first round just once.
It’s a consistently good program. Not extraordinary, somewhere generally between No. 25 and No. 40 in the nation, which seems to get them seeded eighth or ninth in the NCAA. Good enough to compete regularly in the Big Ten and get into the NCAA tournament, but not at the level of the nation’s elite.
California knocked the Hawkeyes out of the NCAA in Sunday’s first-round game, 84-74. Iowa wasn’t strong enough physically to match up.
“The season hardly ever ends the way you want it to,” Bluder said afterward. “We can only get so much bigger and stronger.”
The program bids adieu to two of its mainstays. Point guard Kamille Wahlin departs as the eighth-leading scorer in school history (1,483 points), second in 3-pointers and third in assists. Krei’s offensive numbers declined as a junior and senior, but was unquestionably the best defender on the squad.
“Those two are going to be really tough to replace,” Bluder said.
Reserve Kalli Hansen, who came to Iowa from Kirkwood Community College before her junior season, also has used up her eligibility.
Iowa returns 70.2 percent of its scoring for 2012-13 — if everybody comes back healthy. And there are questions.
Junior Jaime Printy was Iowa’s leading scorer at 16.9 points per game before tearing an ACL on February 2 at Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes won their first six games without her in a February run that enabled them to tie for second in the Big Ten.
“The players stuck together,” Bluder said.
Bluder said that October is the best-case scenario for Printy to return. And that begs the question: Would you rather have Printy at a somewhat limited state next season, or redshirt her and have her at full strength in 2013-14?
“In my mind, she is coming back (next year),” Bluder said. “We don’t have to make that decision right now.”
Printy isn’t the only medical dilemma.
Incoming freshmen Kali Peschel, Nicole Smith and Claire Till — three-fourths of the 2012 recruiting class — have faced significant knee issues. Theairra Taylor has suffered three ACL tears, but showed promise with a 14-point effort against Cal.
Bluder said Jade Rogers “is behind” in her rehabilitation; Rogers missed the entire season after undergoing knee surgery.
And that brings us to mysterious case of Virginia Johnson, who suffered a midseason concussion, was cleared to play, then suffered a relapse and didn’t return.
“I don’t know how that will unfold,” Bluder said. “I really hope Virginia is able to come back, because she might be the most gifted athlete on the team.”
Two areas without concern are point guard and the post.
After a slow start, freshman Samantha Logic developed into one of the Big Ten’s bright young stars. She posted a triple-double against Michigan on Feb. 26, and posted 11 points and 11 assists Sunday against Cal.
“The development of Sam was definitely a plus,” Bluder said.
Morgan Johnson scored in double-figures in each of her last 10 games and averaged 14.9 points per game, with a high of 37 in a loss to Bradley. She’ll be a senior; understudy Bethany Doolittle will be a sophomore.
Assuming everybody is healthy, a potential starting lineup would have Logic at the point, Printy at one shooting guard, either Taylor or Melissa Dixon at the other. Virginia Johnson probably is the best bet at power forward, if available.
There are lots of question marks involved, and if they can turn into exclamation points, Iowa will be good again in 2012-13. Penn State will enter the season as the Big Ten favorite, with Iowa on the list of challengers with Nebraska and Ohio State.
It should be another team that flirts with 20 wins. And there won’t be any mystery about the Hawkeyes’ NCAA travel plans; if they’re selected, they’ll host the first and second rounds.
“Hopefully they make it back, and hopefully they’re able to get out of that (8-vs.-9 first-round matchup),” Wahlin said.