Women’s basketball set to take on Hawkeyes in season opener

By Jacob Onak

NIU women’s basketball will start regular season play this weekend against the Iowa Hawkeyes in the first game of the Preseason WNIT tournament.

The Huskies are coming off a 14-17 record last season, with a 5-9 away record. In their preseason exhibition game the Huskies edged out a tough Indiana Wesleyan team, 45-42.

The Hawkeyes are coming off of a 19-12 season with an impressive 13-2 home record and also made an appearance in last season’s NCAA Tournament despite their first round loss to Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament.

Coach Kathi Bennett said the Hawkeyes are a tough team to beat at home.

“They’re a very good team with a couple seniors that have been to an NCAA tournament all their years,” Bennett said. “They finished I think fourth in the Big Ten so they are a really veteran team, they don’t lose on their home court and they are one of the better teams in the country offensively.”

Iowa has the edge in height against NIU as freshman center Nicole Smith and sophomore center Bethany Doolittle are both 6’4” and senior center Morgan Johnson is 6’5”.

NIU is led by senior forward Shaakira Haywood, who, despite only getting three starts last season, is ready to bring a calming aspect to the Huskies’ side and is ready for this tough Iowa test.

“We are expecting them to think we are the underdog,” Haywood said. “I know that we are just going to come in there and catch them off guard. I think just because I am older I have the experience of playing more teams, especially teams in the Big Ten, and I think just the calm composure I bring to the team.”

This will be the first regular season opportunity for freshman guard Alexis Lindstrom and freshmen forward/center Nicole Wittman to get minutes on the court.

Both did well in the exhibition game against Indiana Wesleyan but this Hawkeyes team will provide a strong test for the young Huskies.

Lindstrom said she is looking forward to be playing college basketball.

“I’m really excited just to get going, to play, to be in college, and am ready to go,” Lindstrom said. “All the girls are really hyped up so I think we are ready to go. We expect a tough defense; they are just a tough team in general. We are going to do our best to keep up with them; I think we can, and we are going to show them what we are made of.”

Bennett was pleased that her team came out victorious in its game against Indiana Wesleyan but said her young Huskies need to make sure they take care of the ball.

“It can’t be like Indiana Wesleyan, our turnovers really have to be down,” Bennett said. “We’ve got to expect the pressure, expect changing defenses, and just really do a good job with taking care of the ball and getting good shot attempts. I feel like we are a team that have absolutely nothing to lose, so we can play very aggressively and very free and hopefully that is going to help.”