COACH BLUDER: Well, it’s been a big week for us, because it’s been finals week, and that really is important for our players. We took some time off for them to study and to really focus on the finals and concentrate on doing well academically.
I don’t think anybody is in jeopardy there, but we certainly want them to close out the semester in really fine fashion. That’s been a No. 1 priority. No. 2 priority is to get ready for Drake. We want to wrap up the state championship. That was one of our goals at the beginning of the year to be the champions of the state and we are sitting one game away from that.
So this game against Drake is important. It’s the only road game of the series. We haven’t fared so well on the road, so this is going to be a real test for us to go over to Drake and play in an environment that’s given us some problems in the past.
We have won over there, but it’s been close games, the Knapp Center is pretty difficult to go in there because it’s such tight quarters and people are right on top of you, kind of like when you play up at UNI.
So it’s a little bit louder, unfamiliar for us to go into an environment like that, and we also have all of the emotional aspect of playing Drake, which there’s a lot of that. And you think, okay, come on, after so many years, it’s got to still be there, so it all kind of reenergized itself with Jennie Lillis going over there as the head coach.
Obviously none of the players that we coached or recruited are still there, that’s not long gone, but you still go over there and see the same fans, the boosters, the court. We opened up the Knapp Center ten years ago ‑‑ I’m sorry, in ’92.
So 20 years ago, we opened that place up. Jan Jensen’s jersey is hanging from the rafters. So there are constant reminders when you go over there of being a part of that program. And now, you add that Jennie Lillis is sitting in my old office, it’s kind of a strange feeling.
Jennie was a great Hawkeye, but she’s going to put everything aside of being a Hawkeye and prepare for this game. I know that her players will have that emotional boost to try to do well for her, and so it’s going to be a very tough game going over there, and we need our players’ full focus so that we can wrap up the state title.
Q. How much longer will Claire be out?
COACH BLUDER: Don’t know. She will not be suiting up for this game or the Missouri state game. So hopefully after Christmas and hopefully, maybe by Big Ten play, we can get her back in uniform.
Q. The history with Jan, Jennie, are the players aware of that, or is that something you need to tell them, hey, this is why this game is a little more emotional for me and also for the other sideline?
COACH BLUDER: I think you always have to inform your players so that they are not caught off guard but the minute they walk in the gym and see Jan’s jersey hanging, that will be a pretty blue flag, in their case, that it’s a big game for a lot of people. And they know Jennie Lillis and the history of her being a great Hawkeye. Definitely we will remind them of all those things going into this game.
Q. Did you talk to Jennie before she got the job or since?
COACH BLUDER: I talked to her both, before and since, before she took the job we had conversations, and then afterwards, I’ve seen her out recruiting. But we have not really talked in the last couple of months. I sent her a text before her first game wishing her luck, but we have not spoken since the season has gotten started.
Q. One of the big things she said, you’ve been a good mentor for her, mixing up coaching and other aspects ‑‑ she said that’s one thing she’s kind of come to you about.
COACH BLUDER: I hope that I’ve had some influence on Jennie. You know, when you coach somebody for our years, you always hope that that’s part of being a coach; that you are able to instill in them not only some good memories of wins, but also how they are going to conduct themselves the rest of their life. That’s a really important aspect, and it makes me feel good when Jennie says that that’s been a part of who she is right now.
But yeah, definitely both of us having kids and being in this profession and sharing the same office and you know, we have some similar paths that we have walked down.
Q. Why do you think the team has had so many struggles away from Carver this season?
COACH BLUDER: We’ve only had two opportunities and we’ve failed in both of those opportunities. Now, playing at Florida State, Florida State is a good team but the FIU game was definitely one that we feel like we should have won. It’s a road game we feel like we should have won. That hopefully will help get their attention for this game.
I think sometimes you have to bring up a little bit of bad history to get their focus, and I think all of the things going into the Drake game. Plus the fact that we have not won a road game; we can get that monkey off our back before the Big Ten season begins, I think is really important.
Q. Talk about Melissa coming off the bench ‑‑
COACH BLUDER: I think that when Melissa comes off the bench, she adds a great spark.
First of all, obviously the three‑point shooting, but also, she works hard on defense, and she cuts hard in our offense. So when she comes off the bench, it’s like those fresh legs. She would be a starter for a lot of other teams around the country, there’s no doubt, and she has been for us.
Q. What do you know about Kali and what she’s able to do with her ball spinning tricks?
COACH BLUDER: Well, Kali has been doing that since she’s a little girl. On her recruiting trips here she would try to show my daughter some of the tricks and she would be in the office she would be trying to spin balls and help her with it. That’s been a something that her whole family has done.
Now her two younger sisters are part of the Alexandria Aces, a group from Minnesota that goes all over the country, participates in halftime shows at NBA games, major college events, has performed here at the University of Iowa.
And so it’s pretty neat that she’s had that experience, and I think you would assume that nothing could rattle her after you’ve performed at halftime in front of NBA arenas, what could rattle you? It’s just great experience for her to have that. Not that she’s going to walk down the court with a 12‑foot pole spinning the ball during one of our games, but she certainly has had the experience of being around competitive atmospheres and having to put on a show, having to compete.
Q. Do you see her maybe trying to teach that to any of the other girls or showing off in practice or anything like that?
COACH BLUDER: You know they mess around with it a little bit but it’s not something that I’ve seen a lot of.
During our practices, there’s not a lot of time for that. So I’m sure they did a lot of that when they are kind of in the gym by themselves.
Q. No Iowa State hangover left?
COACH BLUDER: I actually let the players celebrate that Iowa State game a little longer. Usually I’m like, okay, back to practice the next day, that’s over, let’s move on to the next one.
When we had practice on Friday morning and I told them, you know something, let’s not put this one away yet. Let’s enjoy this one a little longer. In fact, you get Friday and Saturday to enjoy this one, and Sunday when we come back for practice, let’s come back to getting ready for the next game.
We let them enjoy that one a little bit longer but certainly the focus has been finals, this week, and then Drake, and, yeah, Iowa State is kind of over.
But without the Iowa State win, we would not be talking about the state championship. So it’s still there, and it will be. I mean, that’s a good win for us, and we are going to use it, definitely with recruiting, with fan support and all those things, we want to embrace that and use it as much as we can.
Q. How do finals enter into your practice schedule? Are you able to have everybody there at the same time?
COACH BLUDER: Yeah, we really had everybody at practices all the time. We just had to ‑‑ we took Monday and Tuesday off because that was just the brunt of their exams happening during that time but then we have been able to just move our practices around at different times so it’s not at the same time every day. We had maybe somebody leave a little early but nothing major. We have had everybody at every practice.
Q. How about Bethany, her confidence level? She came in over the summer and just dominated the league, has it carried over for her?
COACH BLUDER: She didn’t shoot the ball well against Iowa State, but Bethany has kind of been up‑and‑down and we need to get her consistent, because she’s got a great 15‑foot shot. And sometimes she’s on, it’s unbelievable. And there’s other times like the Iowa State game where she really struggled with her shooting.
So we need to get her on a consistent ‑‑ I think we are going to be a really good basketball team once she’s at that consistent level game in, game out.
Q. You talked about finals week. What about now when what all of the players have to do is concentrate on basketball ‑‑
COACH BLUDER: To me, this is one of my favorite times of the year, and we still have finals today, so we have practice and we still have some finals after practice today.
But in my opinion, with the time that you have over the holiday break with your players and they don’t have school and they just have basketball to concentrate on, I think sometimes that’s when those freshmen can catch up. They can catch up to the other group now that they understand what playing Division I basketball is all about.
But you can spend a little bit more time in the gym. You can work on some things; add some little wrinkles to your offenses and defenses. But you can also have some time to work on special situations and things that kind of get pushed to the side when you’re really rushing in limited time during practice when they are in class.
But now they don’t have classes, they don’t have the stress of exams; they can just focus on basketball. To me it’s the most enjoyable time of the year ‑‑ it sounds like a jingle, doesn’t it?
For a basketball player, because all you do is play basketball, eat and sleep and enjoy the company of your teammates. And so to me, it’s the best time of the year for a basketball player.
Q. Is Nicole close to being 100 percent?
COACH BLUDER: Nicole is 100 percent healthy. We just need to get her to become a little bit better basketball player right now and I keep talking to her about, this has been a great opportunity, you’re learning from one of the best in the country and you need to embrace that. We are still trying to get her to really learn from Morgan’s example and model that behavior.
Q. You said Jennie was a great Hawkeye; can you expand on that a little bit? What did she do well to make herself a great player, and do you see that same type of mentality as a coach in her?
COACH BLUDER: What made her a great player is what is going to make her a great coach, because what made her a great player ‑‑ you look at Jennie, she was a little under sized to play her position, both in height and in strength. But she made up for it through her passion. She made up for it through hard work and the competitive fire that she brought to the game every single day on the court in practice and in every single game.
And that is exactly what’s going to make her a great coach is she works hard, she loves the game, and she’s passionate about what she does as far as being a coach and a mentor. And, she has an unbelievable competitive fire. She’s one of the most competitive kids that I’ve coached, and that will make her just I think a very successful coach.
So it wasn’t always her skills that made her a great player. It was those intangibles and that’s what is really nice for her now because those skills won’t do anything for her as a basketball coach, but those intangibles that she had are what’s going to make her a great coach.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball