Jan. 18, 2012
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Bluder Opening Statement: Facing Wisconsin tomorrow night, they probably have one of the more deceiving records in the Big Ten, them and Illinois. They’re 1 4. They played against Purdue, Ohio State, Nebraska, Penn State, four of the top teams in our conference. They did beat Illinois at Illinois. So I think they’re a team that has progressively gotten better throughout the year.
When I watched them at the beginning of the year, the beginning of the conference season until now, they’re competing, they’re playing hard, and they’re not getting the rewards of the wins. But they’re certainly a team that we have to play our best basketball in order to get them tomorrow night.
Their leading scorer, Taylor Wurtz, quick three point shot, long range, like Jaime Printy type of range. She’s somebody that we have to contend with. Their second leading scorer is their center, Anya Covington, a very mobile post. Not a true big kid, she’s only 6’2″, but very mobile, very athletic, and has progressively just gotten better throughout her career. Now it’s her senior year at Wisconsin, and she’s definitely playing her best basketball.
There are two Iowans on the roster, Morgan Paige, a starter from Marion , started at the wing position for them, and then Lindsay Smith from DeWitt comes off the bench for them. So just an interesting angle. Obviously, we have a Wisconsin player in Sam Logic, but it’s always fun for those players, I think, to go back home and to be able to play in front of your home state crowd.
They’re a team that shoots a lot of threes. A team that plays very good player to player defense. They’re quick, they’re athletic, and they do a nice job with that.
What do you see in Bobbie Kelsey’s sort of system? What does she want to do with this program in terms of offense and defense?
COACH BLUDER: Well, I think she’s trying to bring a lot of things from Stanford, and why would you not? It’s a great learning ground, and a great place to steal ideas from. But she has tried to run some of the triangle offense that Stanford has run for years. Now she’s kind of backed away with it, saying she hasn’t gotten the personnel that she needs right now to run that system.
They’re still running a little bit, but they’re really fast breaking. They’re doing a great job of running the transition, and that is really their primary offensive weapon is getting down the floor so quickly. Then, obviously, in the half court with Wurtz setting her up for three point shots.
She is playing mostly player to player defense. That’s no different of what Lisa Stone did. Lisa was a defensive player type of coach, and so is Kelsey. She’s played a little bit of the zone maybe ten percent of the time. But I see them pushing the ball a lot harder. With a new coach, they’ve got a new blood and new excitement in them. They’re just playing very hard right now, which every coach would like to see they’re playing.
Can we get your scouting report with Morgan Paige?
COACH BLUDER: With Morgan, our scouting report is that she is capable of shooting the three. She’s also penetrating well to the basket. There are some other details in there that I don’t really want to go into, but definitely she’s a player that we’re going to be aware of, being an Iowa player.
What sort of progress as she made in these two years?
COACH BLUDER: You know, I think she went to a place in a good situation. They had an immediate need for her, so here she is as a sophomore. As a freshman, she came off the bench and she’s a sophomore now. She’s starting. They graduated a lot of players. They had a need for her position, so I think it was a good move for her.
What about Smith girl? Is she a reserve?
COACH BLUDER: She is. She’s a reserve wing player for them, and she’s come back from her knee surgery extremely well. Not wearing any brace of any sort, and she did a lot of damage late in the year last year, and boy, she has come back very, very well.
Looking at your schedule, how important is it to get a win Thursday then you go on the road to Penn State and Nebraska?
COACH BLUDER: Right. We have a tough road coming up, so we definitely need to do everything we can to get these home wins. Playing at Penn State is a very difficult battle. They just beat Nebraska by 20 at Nebraska. So they kind of struggled to begin with.
The conference season had a couple of strange losses, but now seem to have things put together quite nicely. So going to play on the road is never easy in the Big Ten. Considering we have a home game before going on the road for two, and then coming back to host a top 20 team, yeah, it’s a tough stretch. At the same time, we’ve just got to go look at the next game and not concern ourselves about the long haul?
Do you talk to the team about keeping the focus on Wisconsin? You hear about trap games, and this looks like it could fall into that category?
COACH BLUDER: I think with us right now it’s not because we just need to win. Our players are not looking ahead to Penn State at all. They are really focused on Wisconsin.
Morgan’s taken two or three really awful looking tumbles. Has there been any sor of concussive symptoms that she’s had?
COACH BLUDER: No, thankfully. But I did tell her yesterday in practice I might have her start wearing a helmet. She takes some nasty bangs.
You know, Morgan doesn’t do a whole lot graceful, and falling isn’t either. She gets the job done. That’s what I like about Morgan. She’s blue collar. She gets the job done. Doesn’t always look beautiful. Again, she really has taken some bad tumbles.
I can’t remember, was it the Nebraska game? I went out there and she did not know who I was. I mean, she was eyes in the back of her head. But that was Illinois, wasn’t it? I can’t remember. Illinois.
But she’s smart, and she passes those concussion tests, so that’s a good thing.
Coach, following up on that, I know after the Purdue game you were talking about sometimes when Morgan has gone down, she’s out receiving treatment, the girls on the floor since they care about her so much, they get caught up and may not focus on the game. Is that something you’ve seen come up more and more or that you’ve looked into?
COACH BLUDER: No, I think that Morgan is one of our leading scorers, rebounders, shot blockers. Not only when they pass the ball to Morgan for Morgan to score, Morgan passes the ball out really well. So she runs our offense really well, and she’s had three years of experience. When she goes out, we miss her presence on the floor.
But also teammates always worry about teammates and what’s happening with them. But at that point you can’t. You have to focus on the task at hand. Don’t mean to sound callous, but you have to. Our players have got to learn that you can’t worry about your uncontrollable situations like that.
At the risk of stating the obvious, is rebounding kind of a key if Wisconsin wants to get out and run all the time?
COACH BLUDER: Our transition defense is very important in this game, and so definitely we need to do a good job of crashing with those who are going to crash. What we did against Purdue was unacceptable as far as giving up so many offensive boards. Our players know it. Funny thing is they knew it at halftime.
When I went in at halftime, they had that written on the board that they needed to change. And we didn’t get it changed. So we’ve got to go from talk to doing, and making sure we make those changes in practice. But definitely, controlling the boards controls the tempo of the game, controls the fast break. So we need to do a better job on the boards.
What more than anything else gives you hope that you can go on a run in the last 11 games and get where you think you probably need to be?
COACH BLUDER: I guess what gives me hope is the kids we have on our team. They’ve done it before. We’ve been in this situation before, and our players have rebounded. Just having the type of kids that we have on this team, they believe they can do it. To me that’s more than half the battle.
They stay confident. They keep believing. Believing in each other, believing in the system. When that happens, good things usually happen.
I wanted to ask you about Theairra. Just the psychology of what she’s going through. Do you think at this point that she’s pretty comfortable making moves, jumping, making cuts? Or is that something that she’s just still getting used to?
COACH BLUDER: I think it’s something that she’s still getting used to. I just, you know, it’s a tough situation. You’re coming off three of these things. It’s hard enough coming off one of them, to come off three of them. I admire her so much for continuing to do what she does.
You know, we met with see Theairra at the end of last year and said if you want to hang it up, we understand. We’ll maintain your scholarship and we believe in you. She said no. I want to play. I want to come back, and I admire that tremendously in a player.
But it’s something that she always has to be aware of is that she’s got to fight through those hesitations. Because, boy, you see glimpses of unbelievable athleticism from her on the floor. But is it something that she continually has to work on? I think so. I think she’s going to have to get through a good year. Who knows. Every person is different in how they bounce back from those things. But I still think it’s there in her mind a little bit.
You’re probably the only one in this room that saw her before she was hurt. Is she 90% of what she was, 50%?
COACH BLUDER: Yeah, you know, she’s not 90%. And it’s hard, too, because when she was going, she was going against high school players versus now going against top Division I athletes. So it’s not really any gold measuring tool either. But I did see her in AAU going against the best players of her grade in the country.
She’s something special. She really is, and I just wish we could see that again in her. I think she keeps working at it, and we’re going to see that out of her. But she’s not speedwise, confidencewise, where she was in high school yet.
What about jumping?
COACH BLUDER: Yeah, I don’t feel like she’s as explosive as she was. But I think she’s going to get there. I feel like she’s making progress. She’s getting stronger. I never loved wearing those braces. I think it’s a constant reminder that it’s there. That’s hard for a kid. How do you forget about something when it creaks we all hear it.
It’s a hard situation to forget about it when it’s a constant reminder on her.
Would she play more minutes if she were producing the way you wanted?
COACH BLUDER: She could, absolutely. We’re not restricted at all in her amount of time that she’s playing.
How much faith do you have in your reserves right now?
COACH BLUDER: Well, Kalli Hansen is hurt right now, and that’s really hurt our you know, with her and Melissa Dixon, those are our top two reserves. So losing both of those players, that’s done a lot of damage to our bench.
Bethany Doolittle, her minutes are still consistent backing up Morgan. Like any freshman, she’s going to have some good games and not so good games. She’ll continue to be in that position.
Theairra, you’ve seen her minutes increase since the injury to Melissa. And I think that even though she didn’t score against Purdue, she’s done some good things for us. So I have faith in her.
Yesterday she was out of practice with the flu, so hopefully she’ll be back today and be able to get some minutes to prepare for Wisconsin.
Trisha, we’re still seeing her coming back. She’s got to get some reps to get that confidence. She had a nice steal in the Purdue game. I don’t think she’s quite comfortable running the offense yet. So we have to keep bringing that. She’s got to, I think, get better at feeling comfortable with the offense again in order for her to help us out.
But she’s somebody I think we have to look to her and Theairra with Melissa out, that those two players can really move in and kind of give us some because they have some experience.
You’ve had basically a smooth season, have you ever had one?
COACH BLUDER: I don’t know if I can remember. That gets so disheartening. I guess the good news is the NCAA did not pass last week the basketball scholarships from 13 to 15. It was on the table, and they did not pass that. I spoke to Jane the other day, and they’re reducing it to 13, I need 20 to have ten healthy, not reduce it to 13.
Is that a cost thing?
COACH BLUDER: I’m not sure what the motive behind it was. I don’t know that I ever heard.