Feb. 22, 2012
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COACH BLUDER: Well, I feel like a broken record. I come in here every week and say this is a big week, but that’s playing the Big Ten, isn’t it? That’s what it’s all about and here we are, the final week and I’m glad I’m saying it’s a big week because there are some people that would love to say they are going into a big week, the final week of play.
Really happy that we moved up to a tie for third. And what happens this week will make a big impact on where we end up in this conference play. We could finish up as high as third or as low at seventh from these two games this week. So, thus, a big week.
Northwestern, they are 4 10 in the Big Ten Conference, but they had a big win at Nebraska last week. And I’m almost glad they had that big win, because that will open my players’ eyes. The last time we played them we opened up the Big Ten season with them. That was a long time ago. We won by 30 points, but that’s all that our players can remember and that’s a bad thing.
I don’t think it’s good when you win it so decisively and you have to go play at their place. To me, it can be a situation where they think they have the game won. So I’m really glad that I had the Nebraska win to show them, look at this, nobody can be taken lightly. When we played them last time, we were very good. We played well in all categories. We have this goal chart in our locker room that lists several goals, from field goal percentage, free throw percentage, deflections, turnovers; we had every one of those, we achieved every single one of those goals except for one and that one was free throw percentage, ironically.
So we played very well in that game, and now we have to play them on the road. The last time we played them, their starting center only played 20 minutes of the game and she’s a key to them. She is playing very well, and their leading scorer in Big Ten play. Dannielle Diamant, she’s 6 5 so she matches more Morgan’s height but to me she’s a very key player in this game. Kendall Hackney, experienced player also. Kelly will have that matchup, and then Morgan Jones, their freshman has been five time freshman of the week during the Big Ten season. Sam will have that matchup.
So we have some really interesting match ups but I do feel like we matchup well against this team. Some teams you don’t feel good about the way you matchup. This team, I feel very well about the way we matchup.
Sunday is obviously our last game of the year, senior day, always an emotional day. We have five seniors on our team, and they have been an important part of the last four years. Obviously two of them are not in uniform; Hannah Draxten, Megan Considine; although Megan is trying to get back into a uniform. She is working extremely hard on her rehab and wants to be there even if it’s just for warmups and her Iowa uniform for one last time. Hoping that works out for her.
Kalli Hansen, transfer from Kirkwood, only played here two years but played some important minutes in the last two years for us, has come up big in some games for us. Kelly Krei, the local player, moved into a starting position her sophomore year and has done so much for us, just been that consistent player for us. And Kamille Wahlin has led this team for the last four years, three years at point guard, one year at the off guard her freshman year.
To say good bye to those players is extremely tough. Obviously a win over Michigan would make it a little bit more happier occasion, and that’s what the plan is. But it’s always very difficult to see that senior group say good bye to the crowd after the game.
Q. Is this the most emotional senior moment you’ve had since you’ve been here?
COACH BLUDER: I don’t know. I’m not sure if I can remember one that’s been more emotional than others. To me they are all emotional at that time. So I can’t say that one is more significant than another. Maybe three years ago when we didn’t have any; that may have been the least emotional.
But you just go through so much with these players in four years, and then you’ve got two years that you recruit them, so really there’s six years of knowing them and four years of coaching them. You go through a lot together you and spend a lot of time together. You’re spending probably as much time or more time than their parents are the last four years. So it’s a very emotional day, but again, I hope we celebrate it with a victory.
Q. Hannah would probably give you some size and rebound and defense in the forward position and she can shoot.
COACH BLUDER: Obviously not having Hannah, her senior year, tough for her. She came here, we thought we had a great sign when she came here, and she really has been besieged with injuries since she’s been here. But she’s helped us in a variety of other ways. She’s still around. She’s on the bench; she’s cheering for our team. She’s helping when she can in practice as a passer, and she’s doing some things for us in the office.
So Hannah still made an impact for us. I know it’s not the career she had mapped out nor the one we anticipated for her, but it was the right decision for her not playing this year for her back.
Q. Talk about Kamille’s career and the way she’s been able to especially when something happens, she’s able to morph into a different player.
COACH BLUDER: I think that since Jaime has went down, Kamille has really risen. I think Sam has, too. But I think Kamille has just realized that she was kind of sharing that leadership role on the floor with Jaime and now she’s taken ownership in it.
She knows she had to look for a shot a little bit more but I do think she’s been more of a vocal leader, too, and expressing what the team needs to do in certain situations. I think she’s tried to do that all year but I think it became more real to her when Jaime went down.
And so, you know, for her, eight times in her career to hit that game winner or that go ahead basket, eight times, most of us dream about doing that once and we are usually on the driveway when we do it. For her to do it eight times in game situations through her career, that’s incredible. But it just shows you again how important she’s been to us in her career. I mean, eight times is almost a third of a season that she’s come up with those type of baskets.
Q. Seems like she has the ability to score more points during her career but she found her niche and her role and did other things.
COACH BLUDER: She has never felt like she had to score to be the great player that she is in my mind for our basketball team. She’s always understood the value of defense. She’s always understood the value of getting people organized, distributing the ball. But certainly, you know, we like it when Kamille is an offensive threat. We like it when all of our players are an offensive threat and she’s just stepped up big for us.
Q. Virginia, update on her?
COACH BLUDER: Nothing. Not even dressing for practice at this point. So doubtful for this week. Hopeful for next week.
Q. What does it mean setting here having a chance to play for a bye in the Big Ten tournament?
COACH BLUDER: It’s terrific, especially when one of those byes was eliminated this year with the addition of Nebraska in the Big Ten conference; we went from having five byes to having four byes. We knew it was going to be even more difficult to receive a bye and we are sitting in a situation that if we can get two wins this week, that we are sitting and looking at a bye.
Q. I know you probably wouldn’t say this is a better team without Jaime, but what is this team doing well right now since she went down?
COACH BLUDER: No, we are not a better team without Jaime. Any time you lose your leading scorer and an outside threat and the defense and the depth and the experience that we lost with Jaime, that’s a blow.
But what I can say is that our team has handled that adversity as well as I’ve seen any team ever handle this. Again, I think every player has risen to the occasion and I mean every player. Even Morgan Johnson who you wouldn’t think would be affected by the loss of Jaime, has. She understands now that she is an important part of our offense; that when we give her the ball, she needs to be productive with it.
So every player; Kamille and her leadership, Sam, obviously freshman of the week this week, two weeks in a row; she has elevated her play in a number of areas, not only looking for the basket and attacking the basket, but rebounding in other areas, defense. Melissa Dixon coming back and getting inserted into the starting lineup. Theairra Taylor has I think grown.
Every player has risen, and that’s exactly what you have to have happen; when one player that is so significant like Jaime goes down, is that everybody has to raise the level of their game. You all know that when it happens, but rarely do you see everybody buying into it and really doing it, and this team has.
Q. Bethany seems to getting some really solid minutes when she goes in for Morgan, can you talk about her improvement?
COACH BLUDER: I think Bethany is one of the most improved players on our team this year. When we started working with her last August in the gym, she was pretty passive, she was not very aggressive. Not very physical, kind of shied away from the contact.
Now she has an understanding of what it takes to be successful at this level. Sometimes it takes a lot longer for a post player to get that lesson, and she’s learned the lesson and she’s using it and she’s battling Morgan every day in practice, she’s battling her in drills and that’s been good for both of them.
Q. Is the weight room going to help her in the off season a little bit just liked it helped Morgan?
COACH BLUDER: Absolutely. I think you always see the biggest jump in the weights in the strength of players between their freshman and sophomore year because they have had a full year to work underneath their strength coach.
Sometimes the beginning part of that, when they first come here as a freshman, is learning to lift correctly; so you don’t get the benefits of building strength like the other players do. And then when you get into the season, you’re just trying to maintain strength.
Now they are going to know what to do and they are going to have the entire summer to build strength, so that’s when I think you see the biggest growth in players, between their freshmen and sophomore years.
Q. Going back to Johnson, is this a career threatening issue with her?
COACH BLUDER: Virginia? I don’t know. I wish that I did know. Because that would answer a lot of recruiting questions for me. But when you sit here with not knowing, I don’t know what to do with recruiting and with her. Do I try to find somebody with that position? Do I have that scholarship to use? Those are a lot of questions I would love to have answered. We just don’t.
Would I love to have Virginia healthy? That would be the best scenario is a healthy Virginia, but we have gotten nowhere in six weeks with this. It’s very frustrating and it’s frustrating for her. She wants to be out on the floor but obviously we can’t risk any health issues to have her out there.
So again, I would love to say that, okay, we are going to have her back for the Big Ten tournament and she’s going to be our surprise factor, but now she’s missed so much practice that it’s hard to get back into all of the plays that you’ve missed and all of the things we have tweaked in our system, like a quick hit here or there or an out of bounds play here and there. You’ve missed all that and you’ve missed all of that conditioning base.
One thing is that she is such an unbelievable athlete is that she can afford to miss it more than anybody else.
Q. Going back to talk about Kamille and her ability to hit those plays; what is it about her that you have dropped her in those late game situations?
COACH BLUDER: She’s proven it. She’s been there before, and so you count on people that have done it before, and you go back to the history books and say, look, this is the person we want with the ball in our hands. But she is extremely strong.
She played 40 minutes, I believe in, that Michigan game and here it is, the last minute of the game, she wants the shot and she drains a three pointer that’s a jumpshot. That’s not easy to do when you’re fatigued that much. And yet, she is strong in the last minutes of the game. She is a good athlete. She can play a lot of minutes for us. And she’s just as strong in those last couple of minutes as she is in those first couple of minutes.
Q. Her personality type seems to quiet and soft spoken. How has she been able to lead this team?
COACH BLUDER: It’s her competitive nature. She may be quiet and unassuming off the floor. But Kamille wants to win, and you can see that in high school. When you put her on the floor, it was everything. And she didn’t take breaks. She just wanted to compete. She wanted to win. And she really didn’t care who she offended in the way, whether it was a teammate or the opponent.
So she wanted to win, and those are the type of kids you want leading your team and battling for you. I just think she’s just done a wonderful job for us in the last four years.
Q. Kelly still is not shooting great, but when she does hit, they seem to be pretty big baskets.
COACH BLUDER: You’re right. When she hits one it’s like everybody almost breathes a sigh of relief, but it’s also like daggers. When she hits one, it’s usually at a really crucial point for us. And you can see the team, how excited they get when Kelly hits one, too.
Q. Do you think your offensive game plan will be more like in the second half, Morgan around the post more?
COACH BLUDER: Yes. We’ll definitely do some things differently against Michigan. We learned from them the first time that we played them. They are probably saying the same thing about us. But we will definitely be doing things differently the second time that we play them.