IOWA CITY — Coming off what was perhaps the low-point of the conference season for the Iowa women’s basketball team, Coach Lisa Bluder wanted to give her team an offensive boost.
Enter Ally Disterhoft.
The former Iowa City West prep was inserted into the starting lineup for the Hawkeyes’ game at Ohio State on Sunday, and the freshman responded in a big way with 24 points and 10 rebounds in Iowa’s 81-74 win — the first in its last 11 tries in Columbus, and the first under Bluder.
“We just felt like we needed a little more firepower in our starts,” Bluder said of the decision to start Disterhoft. “I think Ally provided that for us and gave us an additional outside weapon to start the game with.”
Bluder said she made the decision to elevate Disterhoft the night after the Hawkeyes’ 88-72 loss to Michigan State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Youth coupled with inexperience in the starting lineup can be a concern for coaches, as players tend to push themselves too far or play out of control. But Bluder said giving Disterhoft her first crack at it on the might’ve actually been a benefit.
“(Director of basketball operations) Abby Emmert made a really good point during shootaround … she thought it was a really good thing we were on the road and she didn’t have the pressure of playing in Carver with all the fans around in addition,” Bluder said. “I thought that was a good way to look at it. Ally obviously made good use of her first start.”
For her part, Disterhoft – who’s averaging 12.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game this season – said she did her best to enter the game like she had every other, and not approach things differently because of her elevated status.
Obviously there was a rush of emotions when she found out, and while she agreed with her coach about the pressure being a bit less in terms of performing for Hawkeye fans, it was only to a point.
After all, playing on the road in conference is tough whether it’s your first start or your 50th.
“It was really exciting, and I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty nervous going into the game,” Disterhoft said. “My teammates did a great job encouraging me and giving me some talks about it being just another game, and how I was ready for the opportunity.
“I don’t think I really had a preference (where the first start came). The Ohio State environment was pretty loud there. But once the tip went up, it was just the same as every other game.”
Bluder said going forward she’ll evaluate the starting lineup based on matchups, and while she anticipates the lineup remaining the same for Iowa’s home game against Indiana on Saturday, she wouldn’t commit to Disterhoft being a permanent part of the lineup.
The only challenge in making a change like Bluder has is keeping up the confidence of the person who gets replaced — in this case, Kali Peschel — because the Hawkeyes are going to need maximum effort to compete down the stretch.
“I think (the rest of the team) all embraced it very well and adjusted,” Bluder said. “But you always worry about the person they’re replacing. I have great concern for Kali. I need Kali, and I don’t want to lose Kali. I want her to understand that maybe she didn’t play as much against Ohio State, but she will be counted on throughout the year, and we need her to come off the bench and play well.”
With big changes, Bluder has to rely on locker room leaders to keep things on an even keel.
Point guard Samantha Logic fits that role for the Hawkeyes, and said her job now is to prop everyone up and, like Bluder said, make sure everyone knows they’re still needed.
Because at the end of the day, winning cures all, and keeping morale high can only help in that effort.
“It’s touch and go. You have to keep Ally’s confidence up and you have to keep Kali’s confidence up because we’re going to need Kali, flat out,” Logic said. “I think (the mood is still up). Knowing that we’ve been so up and down, you can’t have (the mood down). We want to start building consistency offensively and defensively.”