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Hawkeyes prepare for big opportunities

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IOWA CITY — When McKenna Warnock took a quick first look at the Iowa women’s basketball schedule, something big stood out.

The chance to play in the Phil Knight Legacy this weekend, a field that includes traditional power Connecticut, Duke and Oregon State, in Portland jumped off the page.

“This tourney is an amazing opportunity," Warnock said Monday. “We’ve never been there before so it’s super exciting for us. It will be a good chance for us to see where we are at early in the season."

The tournament offers invitations. Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said it was an easy answer.

“You don’t get invited to this unless you are one of the top-ranked teams in the country and we’re pleased to represent the University of Iowa at this tournament," Bluder said. “It’s one of those dates that has been circled on the calendar for a long time."

With five returning starters from a year ago and a pair of all-Americans in guard Caitlin Clark and center Monika Czinano, the Hawkeyes are the type of team this event seeks out.

Bluder believes the Hawkeyes, off to a 4-1 start, are ready for the type of competition they will see over the weekend.

In addition to a third-ranked Connecticut team that has won its first three games, Duke is 5-0 and is receiving votes in this week’s Associated Press poll and Oregon State is off to a 4-0 start as well.

Before even thinking about a potential big match-up with third-ranked Connecticut or Duke, the ninth-ranked Hawkeyes have a different type of big challenge in the Beavers.

Oregon State starts 6-foot-9 Jelena Mitrovic in the post and also features 6-2 freshman forward Raegan Beers, named Monday as the Pac-12 freshman of the week after posting double-doubles while averaging 20.5 points and 12 rebounds in wins last week over Eastern Washington and Prairie View A&M.

Bluder said the size Iowa will face in its tourney opener had associate head coach Jan Jensen searching for a step stool to stand on during practice to simulate Oregon State’s size.

“You’re not going to shoot over 6-9," Bluder said. “We’ve told our players that their normal post moves, they won’t work. They will have to find another way to get to the basket."

Ideally, Bluder would like to get the Beavers’ bigs to play away from the basket as often as possible.

“That’s generally our goal anyway. We like to give up as few paint points as possible and against this size it would be helpful," Bluder said.

Bluder believes Oregon State has the attention of her team.

She said the experience on the Iowa roster leads her to believe the Hawkeyes won’t look past Friday’s 7:30 p.m. game and toward Sunday’s second game.

“Caitlin visited there when she was being recruited and it wasn’t that long ago when Oregon State was in the Final Four so I think they have our attention," Bluder said. “It will be another good test for us and that’s what we’re hoping to see."

The games will also help Iowa prepare for its next two home games, both against rated opponents.

North Carolina State, ranked 13th this week, visits Iowa on Dec. 1 and fifth-ranked Iowa State comes to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Dec. 7.

But first, the focus is on Oregon State. If the Beavers attempt to limit touches for Czinano inside as most Hawkeye opponents have so far this season, Iowa must be ready to counter that.

“I really think the best thing we can do is move the ball a lot, keep moving it and create some open shots with our movement," Iowa guard Molly Davis said. “That will be big for us."


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