EVANSTON – Iowa women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder loves everything about Melissa Dixon’s game.
The Hawkeyes coach appreciates Dixon’s talent – her ability to shoot 3-pointers, her quick release, her defensive work – but she equally values Dixon’s total lack of pretense.
Early in the season, senior guard Jaime Printy was returning from tearing her left ACL as a junior, and Dixon, who started the first three games, took it all in stride. Now, Bluder sees Dixon as a lock for the Big Ten Conference’s Sixth Player of the Year.
“For Melissa to handle that situation as beautifully as she has speaks so much about her character and love of playing the game,” Bluder said. “It’s ‘I don’t care if I’m a starter or coming off the bench, it doesn’t matter.’ You wish everyone on your team could act like that.”
Dixon, a 5-foot-8 sophomore from Johnsburg, averages 22 minutes a game and made a significant impact in the Hawkeyes’ 62-45 victory over Northwestern on Sunday at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Iowa (19-11 overall, 8-8 Big Ten) desperately needed the win to enhance its chances of making the NCAA tournament.
Dixon scored 16 of her team-high 21 points by halftime. She hit a pair of 3-pointers to bump Iowa’s lead to 27-20 late in the half, then took the inbound pass with 4 seconds to go and drove for a buzzer-beating layup.
“I felt like we did a really good job of pushing the ball, and I got a lot of open looks off the pushes,” said Dixon, who also led Iowa with 22 points in Thursday’s 75-70 victory over Indiana. “I’m just thankful for every minute I get on the court. I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win. We needed these two wins really badly. It was time to step up.”
There were about 60 Johnsburg fans at Welsh-Ryan cheering on Dixon. Father Scott, mother Cindy and brother Steve were there. Among her other supporters were her high school coach Mike Toussaint and his family, and her best friends Kelsey Nobilio.
The Hawkeyes, who finished seventh in the Big Ten, feel they can grab an NCAA tournament berth with a good showing this week at the Big Ten tournament at Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, an even shorter trip for the Johnsburg contingent. Iowa opens with Northwestern on Thursday.
Dixon was the Northwest Herald Girls Basketball Player of the Year in 2010 and 2011 and is the only girls player in the McHenry County area history to pass 2,000 points for her career. Shortly after graduation in June of 2011, she headed to Iowa City for the summer to become acclimated with her teammates and work out.
“I’m so proud of her,” Printy said. “Last year, she got a lot of minutes, but this year she’s at a whole other level. She’s a huge offensive threat. She can shoot the ball, she can drive the ball, she can play defense. She’s just doing awesome. It’s fun to play with her. I love driving and kicking out because I have so much confidence in her.”
Dixon is ranked second in the Big Ten both for shooting percentage and the number of 3s in conference games. She nailed 5 of 12 3-pointers against Northwestern, has 71 for the season and is hitting 40.1 percent on 3s.
Dixon’s 10.3-point scoring average is third on the Hawkeyes and she has scored 16 or more points in six of the past eight games. At some point this weekend, the Big Ten coaches will cast their ballots for the Sixth Player of the Year. Bluder already has been campaigning.
“I don’t know how you could say anybody else contributes more for their team as sixth person than Melissa Dixon,” Bluder said. “When she gets on a roll, watch out … and just get the ball back to her because when she hits a 3, they can come one right after another.”
Cindy Dixon said her daughter feels quite blessed to have chosen Iowa and thoroughly enjoys playing for Bluder and her staff. That feeling is mutual.
“I just can’t speak enough good things about her because she’s such a joy to coach,” Bluder said. “As a human being, she gives everything she has all the time and I’m glad to see her getting some rewards for that.”