Alexander has plenty of help at Iowa

November, 10, 2010

Kachine Alexander is a singular talent, but it's as much the collection of talent around her at Iowa as her particular skills that make the Hawkeyes a team to watch this season.

Meet Kamille Wahlin and Jaime Printy, for whom the label "role players" lacks a little something.

A better label for each of Alexander's backcourt mates? Let's go with roles players.

"They're both very confident, very level-headed competitors," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "All three of those guards, they play so well together, and they really enjoy being on the floor together."

Iowa retooled its offense last season, shifting to a more up-tempo, read-and-react style after the graduations of Wendy Ausdemore, Megan Skouby and JoAnn Hamlin, all players with good size, as well as point guard Kristi Smith. It was partly a philosophical shift on the part of the coaches to incorporate elements that opponents had used against them, but also an adjustment to make the best use of a young roster with good shooters and less than plentiful size.

It wasn't exactly Paul Westhead coming to Oregon, but the 58 field-goal attempts per game the Hawkeyes put up last season were the program's most since 2003-04, and the 269 3-pointers they made and 729 they attempted blew away the previous single-season records.

A sophomore and a freshman, respectively, Wahlin and Printy were the key players in the latter surge. Wahlin matched Lindsey Meder's single-season record with 84 3-pointers, while Printy had 82 of her own. But it didn't stop there. Along with Alexander, both Wahlin (ninth) and Printy (15th) ranked among the Big Ten's leaders in assists, the only trio to make the top 15. They also managed to get to the free-throw line 145 times, hitting 88 percent of those attempts.

"If you're just a 3-point shooter, you're pretty easy to guard," Bluder said. "What makes them so dangerous is unbelievable shot range, but they can put it on the floor and take it to the rim as well as anybody . They're so dangerous, too, because they're excellent free-throw shooters, so if you foul them along the way, they're going to make you pay for it at the line."

For roughly a month early in the season, they were filling all those roles -- scorer, distributor, shooter -- without Alexander, who missed seven games with a stress fracture in her leg.

On paper, an 81-70 win at Northern Iowa last November doesn't look like much now, especially for a team with aspirations beyond last season's second-round run in the NCAA tournament. But without Alexander, Iowa trailed by three points at the break in that game before 21 second-half points from Wahlin, part of a career-high 33 points, helped secure the win.

Iowa struggled at times during Alexander's absence, but the responsibility placed on both young guards during those weeks turned complementary players into complementary stars.

"I definitely saw a change in Kamille, as far as leadership," Alexander said. "Everyone kind of depended on me to be the leader on the floor, make sure everyone was OK, and Kamille was kind of like a shyer version of that. But when I was out, Kamille had to step up to that role."

The final piece of the puzzle is defense. Iowa needs its young guards to complement Alexander, a member of the Big Ten all-defensive team. That part wasn't there last season, when opponents shot better than 40 percent and averaged nearly 67 points against the Hawkeyes. But if Printy is any indication, things might change this season.

"I'm probably more pleased with her development over the summer than anybody," Bluder said. "I like to tease her that she found a defensive stance, and it's really true. She laughs that she never had to play defense in high school, and she probably didn't. … Here, she obviously has to do that. And it was a whirlwind last year, trying to learn how to do all this, get physically strong enough to stay in a stance and be able to physically handle the defensive style. But she has done it. She has embraced it, and now she is doing a great job defensively.

"I can't believe how much of a better defensive player she is."

What else do you expect from a roles player?

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.



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