March 4, 2008
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Lisa Bluder said a deep team or an experienced team has an advantage during the annual three-day Big Ten Conference women’s basketball tournament.
Bluder knows the tournament. This will be the eighth go-around for the University of Iowa head coach, who has won two Coach of the Year awards. Bluder also knows her team, which not only shared the conference regular-season championship with a 13-5 record, but the Hawkeyes also happen to be deep and experienced.
Iowa (20-9 overall) is the No. 2 seed and will play the winner of Michigan and Penn State on Friday, March 9, at 10:30 a.m. at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind. The Hawkeyes are 1-1 against Michigan this season (63-46 loss on Dec. 30, 66-61 win on Jan. 27) and 2-0 against Penn State (67-58 on Dec. 28, 73-65 on Feb. 10).
“Having a deep team is a big key to having success in this tournament when you’re playing three or four games in a row that close together,” Bluder said. “You don’t have a lot of time to rest your legs so I think a deep team is very, very beneficial. I think it helps us as an experienced team, too. Having a deep team and a veteran team will help us in this tournament.”
Bluder has a record of 6-6 in seven conference tournaments. The Hawkeyes were 3-0 and won the tournament championship in Bluder’s first season in 2001. Iowa was ousted in the first-round game the last two seasons.
“I’m very excited about the tournament,” Bluder said. “I think this is as wide open as any we’ve seen and I think that makes it exciting. I think it’s a real advantage to the top three seeds to get that bye just because the games are going to be so much more competitive this year.”
It has been an eventful week for the Hawkeyes, who defeated Northwestern 68-42 during an emotional Senior Night game on Feb. 28 and then clinched the Big Ten Conference co-championship with an even more emotional 87-78 win at Wisconsin on March 2.
“It’s an experience I’m definitely going to cherish forever,” senior forward Jenee Graham said. “We said we were going to do it and we did it. We have confidence in ourselves and we’re going to practice hard this week and really get prepared.”
Bluder has done her share of hugging during the last six days. But she has also done some pulling. Perhaps the lightest moment from her weekly press conference was when she revealed that her Tuesday morning was spent pulling her daughter’s front tooth. So what have been highlights over the past 48 hours?
“If you ask my daughter it would be that I pulled her front tooth this morning,” Bluder said. “That was a highlight in our house.”
How about basketball-wise?
“I’m very excited about the tournament. I think this is as wide open as any we’ve seen and I think that makes it exciting. I think it’s a real advantage to the top three seeds to get that bye just because the games are going to be so much more competitive this year.”
UI head coach Lisa Bluder
“It’s kind of been a whirlwind, but I’m just really trying to enjoy it,” Bluder said. “I do believe that this experience can change (the player’s) lives. I think it can change the type of people they are and can help them be better in a variety of things, whether it’s their work, or relationships, or being a parent. I’ve always believed we have a great teaching environment on the basketball court.”
Even with all the recent success and jubilation, Bluder is confident that the Hawkeye will focus on the Big Ten Tournament.
“I do think they know it was fun, but it’s not enough,” Bluder said. “We had goals of being in the NCAA Tournament and doing well within the NCAA Tournament, too, so we still have goals out there. We had a goal of winning the Big Ten Tournament. They enjoyed reaching that one (Big Ten regular season co-championship) so much I think it will be easy getting them up for this one.”
Iowa opened the Big Ten season 2-3 before reeling off eight consecutive victories. Bluder, who has been running the triangle offense for 10 seasons, said she became somewhat tired of the same routine and switched to a motion offense over Christmas break.
“Basketball is basketball,” Bluder said. “Setting a screen is setting a screen and passing the ball is passing the ball. I enjoyed the triangle, but quite honestly, I was getting a little bored with it. It’s fun to try something new. I think our team was just ready for a change and they needed something if nothing, a mental change. If there was a magic offense, then everybody in the United States would be running the same thing. It’s how well you execute an offense.”
Since Jan. 13, the Hawkeyes are 11-2. Although not looking too far ahead, Graham can’t help but keep an eye on what one opponent — Ohio State — is doing this weekend in Indianapolis. Ohio State, the tournament’s top seed, is the only team to sweep Iowa this season, winning 73-65 on Jan. 6 in Iowa City and 69-56 on Feb. 21 in Columbus, Ohio.
“I would definitely love a third try for Ohio State,” Graham said. “It’s our turn to get them.”
An Iowa-Ohio State clash could only happen on Sunday, March 9, in the championship game. And if, as Graham predicts, it is Iowa’s turn to `get them,’ the celebratory whirlwind within the Hawkeye Nation will be extended.
“It’s really fun to win a championship,” Bluder said. “But it’s even more fun when you can share it with people you really care about.”
Some 503 career victories is more than enough evidence to prove that Bluder knows how to celebrate.
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