A transcript from coach Lisa Bluder’s press conference on Wednesday.
LISA BLUDER: Nice for us to have the bye weekend. I think our next bye is on a Thursday, which doesn’t quite have the same effect as having a Sunday off because the kids are in school then, but having an actual day where the team was able to go home for a couple days, be able to have some time with their families again. Our Christmas break is pretty short, and so for them to have that time I think means a lot to them mentally, and then physically to have a couple days off is really nice.
So I think it rejuvenated everybody, including the coaching staff. We were a little bit under the weather with some different illnesses, so it was nice for us to be able to have some time and recuperate and get ready for this game.
Michigan State we know is going to be a tough battle. They’ve only lost a couple of times throughout the year. They’re very solid on their home floor. We’ve had some good success against them the last few years. In fact, I think we’re 4‑1 against them in the last three years, but only one of those games has been at East Lansing. We’ve played them either at home or in the Big Ten Tournament on a neutral floor.
So we haven’t won there in a while, and it’s something that obviously is important because this is our solo meeting with them, and it’s important because they’re one of the groups that we were tied with last year, and it looks like it could be that same type of scenario where at the end of the year you’re looking at tiebreakers. So that’s important. And also it was a win that we had last year.
They’ve been hit with a lot of injuries, but they’re still an unbelievable ‑‑ I mean, it’s amazing to me what they’ve done through so many injuries and so many problems that they’ve had this year. But they’re just a team that is very balanced. You can’t worry about one person because somebody else is going to step up and have a stellar night for them, and those are the teams that I think are hard to defend. I hope we’re like that, too. But I think those are the teams that are very difficult to defend because there’s nobody that you can get any relief off of.
They’re an excellent rebounding team, they’re a +15 for the Big Ten three games, and I tried to stress that to our team today, 15 more opportunities to shoot the ball. That’s an incredible advantage. And we have to be disciplined to take that advantage away from them in this game and I think really do a great job on the boards. I think that’s going to be a key to this game, as well.
Big week for us with Michigan State and then Purdue at home, and we all know Purdue is sitting at the top of the Big Ten. Their only two losses in the whole year have been Connecticut and at Notre Dame, so I don’t think those are two bad losses by any means. But we’ve had some good success against Purdue on our home court, and we need to take that confidence into this week.
Q. You’re really close to a milestone. What are your thoughts about that?
LISA BLUDER: Well, Aaron told me about that when I walked in here. But I did know once this year that it was coming up because before the Robert Morris game, I was down there talking to their coaches, and one of the assistants, a kind of young guy, said to me, wow, you almost have 600 wins. I was like, yeah. He goes, how many more years you got in ya?
And so I guess it’s a long time. I’ve never been asked that before by another coach, how many more years do you have left in ya. I hope I have a lot left in me.
Q. You were only 23 when you started?
LISA BLUDER: 24 when I started coaching basketball, so it’s taken me a long time to get here.
Q. Do you remember anything specific about that first win against Clark, I believe?
LISA BLUDER: It was. It was against Clark College. I was at St. Ambrose and it was against Clark College and it was on the road. How do you ‑‑ it was a long time ago, but again, I’ve always said, I’ve been really fortunate to be at three great places, all in the state of Iowa, which I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve spent my entire coaching career in the state of Iowa. But St. Ambrose, Drake and now here at the University of Iowa, it really is a dream come true.
I’ve been here for 13 years now, and I am still just as excited as I was that first year when I got here. I am still so excited to be able to be the Hawkeyes’ coach. It really is a dream.
Q. When you started out in coaching, like how long did you think you’d do it?
LISA BLUDER: Make it through the first year. I mean, really I remember when I was offered the job and the pay was terrible, I came ‑‑ I met Dave after the interview, and I said, good news and bad news, and I told him the good news was they offered me the job and the bad news was what the salary was, and we both kind of just laughed and said, well, let’s just try it one year, and that’s really what it has turned into. I mean, it was a one‑year kind of a trial‑and‑error type of thing.
Q. Do you remember what your salary was your first year?
LISA BLUDER: Oh, yes, I do remember. I kind of hate to say it because of St. Ambrose being such a good friend. But I was offered the job for $2,400 for the year, and I used my unbelievable negotiation skills to get it up to $2,500 for the year. So that was my salary the first year.
Q. When did you start thinking about moving up the ranks, and did you ever feel like, okay, one day I’d like to go D‑1?
LISA BLUDER: Yeah, I did, and I was at St. Ambrose for six years, and our last four years we were in the NAIA nationals. I don’t even think I remember this. I know the last two years we were in the Final Four. I feel like the last four years we were in the national tournament, which is the Sweet 16 teams in the NAIA. And after my fifth year at St. Ambrose, I was offered the UNI job, and that was my alma mater. I felt like we had a really good opportunity to win the national championship the next year at Ambrose, and I think it was my mother‑in‑law convinced me you’ll have more other opportunities.
So I turned that job down, but that was really, I guess, during that year when UNI started talking to me was the first time I really started thinking this is something I’d really like to do, and it went from there.
Q. Against teams that play zone so much, how important is it to have somebody like Samantha hitting a couple threes like she is?
LISA BLUDER: Very nice. It’s also nice to have a weapon like Melissa Dixon come off the bench. I think when Theairra gets her feet set and is ready for the ball being passed to her, she’s excellent from three‑point range, as well. We all know about Jaime.
You know, I just feel like we have a lot of weapons to go against a zone, and we just need to be more confident breaking it and not only with the three‑point shot but again, through dribble drive action and through getting the ball inside to Morgan at the same time.
You know, the second half of Wisconsin, we did pretty well against the zone. First half not so well, second half we did pretty well. So I think we’re getting more used to it now, and we were able to spend some time practicing against that last week and spent a little more time focusing on that, which is really good.
I think we’ll be more prepared. I think we’re ready to go. It’s not that I didn’t think we were ready to go before, I just think now we have a little more confidence to break it.
Q. This team is in the top 10 in the nation in assists. Why has this team been so effective at sharing the basketball?
LISA BLUDER: You know, that’s part of our identity. That’s part of who we are. And if you go back, I think we’ve always been pretty good at assists. I think last year were we ranked 16th or 17th best in the country in assists? So I think we kind of attract those type of point guards that are looking for that, that are understanding that they’re going to distribute the ball. We like scoring point guards, don’t get me wrong, but we also like everybody to be distributing the ball. Morgan gets a lot of assists within our offense, so it’s just we talk a lot about giving up a shot to get a better shot and high‑percentage shot, what a high‑percentage shot looks like.
And I think we really celebrate assists in practice, and we celebrate them after games, and so I think it makes them understand how valuable we think they are.
Q. Samantha and Morgan seem to be on the same page all the time. Do they have an eye contact thing where they kind of know, or are just the plays so set up so you know what you’re running open, but it seems like she’s open so much, any time she drives down.
LISA BLUDER: Well, they work together very well, and I think through time and experience of running our offense ‑ they’ve been doing this for a year and a half now ‑ that they are very comfortable with each other. You know, it’s pretty comforting for Sam to know how good Morgan’s hands are because she just has unbelievable hands. I think it’s really comforting for Morgan to know if she makes the right move on a dribble drive she has a great opportunity to get the pass. I think they just enjoy it. They really enjoy playing together and getting those ‑‑ you know, we were kind of teasing Morgan that she got fouled on a shot and didn’t get the assist there. She made the two free throws but then Sam didn’t get the assist. That would have given Sam a triple‑double in the last game.
Q. You talk about rebounding more than you talk about practice games and how intense it is and that the loser for rebounds runs. How important is it that stress that to the players?
LISA BLUDER: It’s pretty important. That’s not unusual that we run for competitive drills. I mean, it’s pretty typical. I really want our players to always compete, and so we often have losers having a penalty of some sort or another. So that’s not unusual.
But I’m glad she recognized the seriousness of that we need to box out in this game because it is ‑‑ I think it is a key for us to have an opportunity to win the game at their place is to box out. You’re talking about a +15 over three games in Big Ten action; that’s an amazing number. They’re a +9 overall for the year. You just think, nine more opportunities to shoot the ball. That’s a huge advantage.
So if we can take that advantage away from them, it gives us just a lot better possibilities to win that game.
Q. At the same time Morgan and Sam were joking about getting stickers. What are these stickers that they’re trying to get?
LISA BLUDER: We give stickers after game, and it’s kind of like the football decals on the helmets that they get. We put them on our lockers, and basically we give awards out after every game for assists and rebounds and highest field goal percentage and highest free throw percentage, so we kind of reward those kids in practice after games.
You know, it’s just a little thing. It’s not a big deal at all. But we try to have fun with it. We also reward kids for taking charges and for making three‑point plays, too, because we think ‑‑ I think that’s the best play in basketball, when you make a basket, get fouled, convert the basket, draw the foul and make the free throw. To me that’s one of the best plays in basketball, so we also reward those kids with different things. Again, it’s just trying to add a little bit of fun to practice.
Q. Are they like cartoon stickers or ‑‑
LISA BLUDER: They’re tiger hawk stickers, but then they also have their name on it and the game and what it was, for example, assists, 9 versus Wisconsin.
Q. When you talk about handing out stickers, Big Ten is physical. You already scheduled a physical non‑conference, now it gets more physical in the conference, and you’ve got two teams this week that are among the most physical in the Big Ten. Is your team ready for that kind of ‑‑
LISA BLUDER: Well, I hope so. Again, I think we have really tried to challenge ourselves in the non‑conference. I don’t know how much more you can prepare yourself besides having your gray squad really go hard against you in practice and making it physical. I would also add Illinois to that list of really physical teams. I think that they are, as well.
Q. You only went with six players with the most minutes the last game. Is that just the way the game went, just the rotation wasn’t quite as ‑‑
LISA BLUDER: Yeah, and we, we as in coaches, we need to do a better job of getting Kathy Thomas ‑‑ it’s not that Kathy is doing anything wrong, it’s just that Sam is playing so well and it’s hard to remove someone that’s playing that well. That kid can go a lot of hours, a lot of minutes, a lot of playing time. She’s pretty durable.
So we need to give her more rest, though. We need to give her more breaks. And really the same, Melissa Dixon is getting a lot of playing time. She’s getting that 20 minutes. But I would have the same argument for Trisha Nesbitt. Trisha is playing her best basketball of her career right now, and she’s doing everything so soundly defensively, but right now we’re deeper than we’ve ever been, and in a normal year that wouldn’t happen, but it’s like a blessing. We’re not injured right now, but it’s unfortunate for somebody like Trisha who spent most of her career injured and now she’s not and she’s not getting as many opportunities as she deserves because she’s actually playing very well.
We also need to, I think, starting Kayla Timmerman into the lineup, as well. She’s proved herself in practice. Again, those are things that us coaches have to be more cognizant of and do a better job with.
Q. Can you play Samantha at the 2 with Kathy or is she such a good 1 that you hate to take the ball out of her hands?
LISA BLUDER: No, in fact, we do that. We’ve done that. We had a situation in Wisconsin where Jaime was our 1 and Sam was our 4 because Sam can guard a 4. Sam can ‑‑ and she’s so smart. Sam remembers everything, which is great. Usually when you switch somebody out of their normal position, it’s really hard for them to move into the 4 because they take the ball out of the basket after made baskets, they’re set up in the press break, where Sam can remember it all, and she never misses a beat. She never makes a mistake with that. Maybe it sounds like a really little thing, but it it’s not. Usually that person is halfway down the floor, she’s getting open for the floor when she’s supposed to be taking it out of bounds. She’s not doing any of those things.
We have experimented with a four‑guard lineup and we ran it in games. We ran it in the Michigan game, we ran it in the Wisconsin game, we’ve run it in practice, and that gives the opportunity for Kathy to get on the floor or Melissa and Trisha to get more playing time and moving Sam to the 4.
Q. Kathy having to guard Jasmine, is that a good scenario or a bad scenario?
LISA BLUDER: Because they know each other? You know, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I hope they have a healthy respect for each other. I haven’t given it a whole lot of thought. I think we’re going to put ‑‑ Kathy will be so anxious to get in this game that she will ‑‑ it won’t matter who we put her on. I think she is going to give us full effort. I mean, if we ask her to get a drink of water and she’ll probably sprint to the end of the bench to grab that drink of water. She’s going to be so geeked about being at home and so excited. And that’s her personality, too. Some kids it’s not as big a deal to go home. Kathy is very emotional, in a good way, and I think she’s going to bring that emotion to this game.
Q. Will she get a lot of people like Samantha did come down to see her?
LISA BLUDER: I don’t know. I’m not sure. I’m not sure how far Flint is. I don’t know.
Q. If you’d talk about the milestone, the 600. You’ve reached so many milestones and the peer group around you has gotten more and more thin. What does it mean to have that recognition?
LISA BLUDER: You know, it really is longevity. There are a lot of coaches that have reached 600 wins a lot quicker than I have, and so they’ve done a much better job than I’ve done, because it’s ‑‑ if you’re in it long enough, you’re going to get milestones. Really it’s percentages, how long did it take you to get there. It’s taken me a long time. We already pointed that out. I started coaching when I was 24. It has taken me a long time to get there.
But again, I am so fortunate because of Jan and Jenni and Shannon and the commitment that they have given me. That is what’s remarkable. That to me is the true story, that Jan and Jenni have been around for 21 years and are every bit as important as I am in every single one of those victories. So I think that’s the real story.
Q. A lot of coaches don’t make it that far because they don’t have jobs.
LISA BLUDER: Well, yeah, you have to hang onto your job in order to get those type of numbers. Again, I credit that I’ve been at three great places. I mean, it’s ‑‑ and to be at Iowa for 13 years, that means a lot to me, it really does. Vivian was here for 12 years and Vivian had a lot better winning percentage than I did. No arguing that. But I feel like I’ve been the longest reigning coach here and that means a lot. I hope I can leave some kind of legacy here. This is where ‑‑ that is where I want to finish up. This is my dream job. So I hope I can stay here for a lot longer and be able to have a lot more wins here because this is ‑‑ I think this is an incredible special place and I love it here. I don’t know how long I can hang on to Jan and Jenny, though.
Q. Who were your role models when you were first starting?
LISA BLUDER: You know, Vivian was one of my role models. When I was over at St. Ambrose I used to come over and work her camps and spend time with her and watch her practices. So she was somebody I definitely when I was starting out. But then there was also a lot of high school coaches and other college coaches. I’d go watch anybody I could. How come I’m drawing a blank on the UNI? Eldon Miller. I would go watch Eldon Miller’s practices. I went to tons of coaches’ clinics when I was starting out just to try to figure out my philosophy and what I wanted to do and I found out there’s a lot of different ways to do things.
But there was a lot of people, high school coaches even along the way that I took a lot of information from. But Vivian would probably be the key one.
Q. Is basketball basketball, or is there any difference between high school and college basketball?
LISA BLUDER: I think there’s differences between high school basketball and college basketball. I don’t think there’s a lot of difference between NAI Division III, Division II and Division I. Certainly the talent gets better as you advance, but the work ethic, the things that you require, the fundamental skills are really all the same, and so I really don’t think that that makes a big difference.
Q. Did you know you wanted to be a coach while you were still at UNI or before that?
LISA BLUDER: Yeah, my senior year in college, I had this business major, and I’m like, what am I going to do with this because I really am going to miss the game of basketball. I really want to be involved in basketball. And that was the first time I really thought of having a career in basketball. But back then there really wasn’t a whole lot of opportunities. There wasn’t a lot of GA positions available.
So I went on with that ‑‑ the career in business for my first year out of college but stayed involved in the game, stayed involved ‑‑ I was the officials evaluator at UNI. I even did some PA at UNI, I did some camps with some of the Iowa men’s players that were traveling around just to stay involved in the game. I officiated for Hawkeye Tech up there, as well.
So I stayed involved with the game, and then when I was going to get married and Dave lived in the Quad Cities, I sent my résumé to all three of the local schools, Marycrest, St. Ambrose and Augustana, and I always laugh that I didn’t even get a rejection letter. They didn’t even care enough about my résumé that they could bother sending me a rejection letter. It was really kind of a lucky situation that I ever even got into coaching. It was Jim Fox, the athletic director at St. Ambrose, who took a chance on me, and I’ll always be thankful for that.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball