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IOWA WOMEN WIN HAWKEYE CHALLENGE, START SEASON 2-0

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The Iowa women make it 20 straight wins at home.

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

This past weekend was a most excellent weekend for Hawkeye sports -- and it wasn't just the male athletes providing the wins, either.  Iowa women's basketball tipped off their season this weekend with a pair of wins in the Hawkeye Challenge, blasting North Dakota, 83-61, on Friday, and edging Tennessee-Martin, 62-56, yesterday.  Last year Iowa made the Sweet 16 for the first time in Lisa Bluder's Iowa coaching tenure (and the first time overall since 1996), but they also lost the tremendous core of seniors that led that team to so much fantastic success.  Samantha Logic, Bethany Doolittle, Melissa Dixon, and Kathryn Reynolds were the heart and soul of that team and they broke several records during their Hawkeye careers; replacing them was always going to be a tall order.

So this weekend's games represented the first chance to see the new-look Hawkeyes in official action.  Iowa led just 33-31 over North Dakota at halftime on Friday, but that sluggish start gave way to a sensational second half -- Iowa scored 50 points on 54.5% field goal shooting and easily pulled away from North Dakota.  Kali Peschel had a first half double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) on her way to a strong performance (17 points, 14 rebounds, 3/6 from 3-point range), while 15 of Ally Disterhoft's game-high 20 points came in the second half.  Megan Gustafson was the standout performer among Iowa's freshmen, scoring 12 points (on 5/6 shooting) and grabbing 7 rebounds in 23 minutes of action.  Iowa also did a better job of taking care of the ball in the second half, turning the ball over just three times after giving it away 9 times in the first half.  Iowa was able to dominate the glass, snaring 45 rebounds (to 31 for UND), including 19 offensive boards -- they got a second chance on almost half of their missed field goals in the game.

Sunday's game was a much tighter affair.  Iowa beat UT-Martin just 62-56 and even that required them to climb out of an early 10-0 hole.  Iowa managed to tie the game up by halftime (26-26) and then took control of the game in the third quarter, when they outscored UT-Martin 21-14.  Gustafson scored in double figures for the second straight game for Iowa (10 points on 3/4 shooting), but it was another freshman who made an even bigger impact -- Tania Davis, a 5* recruit and #36 overall recruit (per ESPN), had a team-high 12 points on 5/9 shooting as well as 6 rebounds and 4 assists in her 29 minutes of work.  She was at the heart of most good play for Iowa on Sunday.  Two other Hawkeyes, Alexa Kastanek (11 points on 3/6 shooting) and Disterhoft (11 points on 4/10 shooting) also hit double figures for Iowa.  Iowa once again used a strong-shooting second half (54.5% -- again) to pull away from an opponent, although less successfully than they did against North Dakota.

Iowa's performance against UT-Martin was certainly not their sharpest display, but inconsistent play is to be expected with the massive turnover brought to the lineup by the departures of Logic, Doolite, Dixon, et al.  There are still some good pieces in place -- Disterhoft is a fine star for this current Iowa roster to build around, while Paschel, Kastanek, and Whitney Jennings are key starters and Gustafson and Davis appear ready to contribute immediately as true freshmen.  The road will probably be a bit rockier this year than last season, but there's still enough talent around for Iowa to put together another solid season.

Iowa returns to action on Thursday night against Western Illinois in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City at 7 PM CT.