March 6, 2013
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COACH BLUDER: I think we talked about Northwestern last week. So here we are again. It’s kind of ironic. Eleven teams you could be playing in the conference and playing the same team back to back in the conference tournament.
We obviously know our opponent. I think it gives us a little confidence going in there against them knowing that we did beat them on their home court last Sunday.
But every game is a new game and it depends on a lot of things: if the balls are going in the hole, the officials, how they’re calling it and such.
Obviously Northwestern has a lot to fight for. Most likely the only way they’re getting into the tournament is by winning the whole thing. So there’s a lot at stake for them. I’m sure they’re going to leave everything they have on the floor, just like you would expect everybody at this time of year to do.
We’re excited about heading into this tournament. For us it’s like a whole new season. We don’t care what your seed is, we don’t care what our seed is, it’s an opportunity to go in and start fresh and have a whole ‘nother season. It’s kind of rejuvenating actually.
I want to congratulate our players that received awards this week. Melissa Dixon, I felt like that was a lock all year. I’m glad the other coaches in the Big Ten felt the same way about her. Also really happy for Morgan. I told the whole team, in a 12 team conference league that’s second best in the country, when you’re considered one of the top 10 players amongst this group, that’s pretty prestigious. Very happy for her to get that honor.
For Sam to get third team honor by the media, they picked it higher than the coaches. I agree with the media on that.
Jaime Printy being honorable mention. For her to get recognition all four years of her career shows you her consistency in our program and what she’s done since she arrived here as a Hawkeye.
A lot of good things this week. But our full focus is on Northwestern, not looking ahead to play Nebraska the next day. Our full focus in these two days have been on Northwestern.
Q. You say Northwestern still has a lot to fight for. Reading between lines, do you feel like you’re in no matter what?
COACH BLUDER: I do feel like our résumé today, if today the Selection Committee was meeting, I think we would be in. We have a 37 RPI, play in the second toughest conference in America, have good quality wins. I feel like we’re in.
I do know if we go to this tournament and we lose to Northwestern, our RPI will drop. Now our chances go down because of that loss.
I still feel like we’ve done enough throughout the year to merit an invitation to the tournament. But, of course, the better we do, the greater our chances are. I don’t like to leave a whole lot to chance.
Q. Biggest challenge facing a team twice within the span of four days?
COACH BLUDER: I don’t think there’s a lot of challenges. It makes your scout a lot easier. Especially a team like Northwestern, they are a difficult scout because they do so many plays, run so many things, that it takes a lot of focus for them.
I think it really is an advantage to play them so close together because our players just did this last week. I don’t think it gives either team an advantage, but I certainly think it helps us with this scout because they are difficult to prepare for.
Q. How much emphasis are you putting on this team’s showing in the tournament that they’re the team that knocked off seven ranked teams instead of the team losing six out of seven down the stretch?
COACH BLUDER: We’re going in here new season. Northwestern, one game at a time. What’s in the past is in the past. We can only control what happens when we hit the floor at 11:30. Haven’t talked to the team about anything.
Q. Do you know anything about the Sears Center?
COACH BLUDER: No. Walked around it on the outside. I’ve been up there recruiting quite often. They have an AAU venue in the backyard of this facility. I stayed at the Marriott. They have a walking path around this arena. I’ve never been inside.
I understand it’s an eight thousand seat arena, in a horseshoe shape. I told the team the last time we changed venue and went to Grand Rapids, we came home with the trophy, so why not do it again.
Q. Are you okay with the women’s tournament being held in the suburbs while the men are at the United Center downtown?
COACH BLUDER: It would be kind of nice if they were at the same time because then Hawk fans could attend both. I think that could be a good situation for Iowa fans traveling to Chicago to see both tournaments in one weekend. I think it would be fun. Then moving the finals of the women’s to the United Center and having the finals back to back, I just think that would be a great situation for the Big Ten. I wish we would move our tournament back a week and play at the same time as the men.
Q. A couple weeks ago you mentioned Morgan, that she didn’t know if she could be a Division I player. What did you have to do to convince her?
COACH BLUDER: I remember even when I was sitting in my house when I was talking to her about this in a phone call, talking to her, letting her know I thought she could be successful at this level. I thought she could be a great player at this level.
I could almost feel the relief coming over the phone from her because I think other coaches that were recruiting her were telling her she wasn’t good enough to play at the BCS level. When you’re 17 years old, you listen to adults a lot. I think what they said had hurt her and also questioned her ability to play at this level.
So I think she felt kind of a sense of relief in that conversation.
Q. You have a lot of posts come in here, talented, big, some projects. Where does Morgan rank?
COACH BLUDER: I think a little bit of both. But I’d say lending more to the project side just because of her thinness, her lack of strength when she came in here. She had to get a little bit mentally tougher.
But I don’t know that I’ve had many posts that have come in here with such a willingness to learn, a willingness to work hard, a positive attitude. So those things are what have developed her into being the player she is today.
Q. All the blocked shot records. At one point it looked like she’d foul out more than get the blocks. What did she have to change?
COACH BLUDER: I think she got stronger, got better body control with getting stronger. I think through experience she got smarter and started to understand when to go for blocks, how to be straight up.
Time of game sometimes determines how aggressive you can be with blocking shots. I think just through experience she got a lot of experience being a starter through her freshman year, that she learned those qualities.
Q. Along with Morgan, can you talk about senior leadership leading into a potential bubble situation?
COACH BLUDER: Our senior leadership has been fabulous this year. Our captains, Jaime, Trisha and Morgan, were voted on by the players. So obviously the players had the respect for those three.
But I think those three didn’t just take the title and sit on it, they took the title and tried to learn how to be better captains. They just embraced the role, wanted to be good captains, wanted this team to be successful because they knew it was going to be their legacy, their senior leadership, their captain role that was going to be tagged to this season.
So I think they were very determined to always do a good job with that. I couldn’t ask for more from those three, as far as their leadership, their work ethic, their attitudes, going out of the box to try to talk to people, out of their comfort zone, how to work with the players. They’ve been great.
Q. Health issues with four games in four days?
COACH BLUDER: No health issues. Morgan’s knees all through the year, we’ve taken her out of drills to save her minutes, but that’s it.
Q. You had the slump there a couple weeks ago. Three out of the last four wins, do you think you’ve righted the ship?
COACH BLUDER: I do. We look at our schedule, I feel like we had one week of bad basketball. We played Northwestern at home, Minnesota there. We did not play very good basketball. But after that, even though we weren’t getting the wins, we played Nebraska, played four straight top 25 teams: Nebraska, Penn State, Purdue, and Nebraska again. That’s a tough stretch for anybody in the country unless maybe you’re a top 10 team. We’re not a top 10 team right now.
So even though we were losing those games, I felt like we were getting better. Sometimes you can’t look at the result; you have to look at the work going into it. I thought we were doing better.
I wish we could take that one week of bad basketball back, but we can’t. Can’t do anything about it. Looking at my schedule, you have the last six games of the year, four against top 25 teams. We go into the last four games of the year, two of them against top 25 teams, three on the road. We go 3 1 during that stretch. I think most coaches would be happy with that.
Q. Talking not just about your senior leadership, but what you’ve been getting from Theairra this year. Now she’s having career highs across the board.
COACH BLUDER: I think Theairra is playing more confident right now. We’ve switched her role a little bit. We’re running a little of a four guard lineup. That’s giving her more minutes. I think that’s been good for her. She’s always been an incredible example, anybody looks at her, how badly you want to play the game. She could have easily walked away with her scholarship and been on the sidelines for us. She wants to be in the game.
A great example to have on the team. I think she keeps getting better and better. I like what she’s doing for us now. I thought she had a good defensive game against Northwestern.
Q. How would you handicap this tournament?
COACH BLUDER: I’m not sure. How would I handicap this tournament?
Q. Teams are coming from so many different levels. The depth of the conference this year has been so much greater.
COACH BLUDER: I think that’s why we’re ranked as the second best conference in the American. You have a team like Indiana, who is the last seed in our conference, beating Purdue, a top 25 team in the country at the end of the year. I just think that made our conference so good.
When I came into this league, there were definitely games that you thought W, W, W. It’s not like that anymore. I think that’s what makes this conference tournament so exciting, but also it’s made our conference so good this year.
Q. If you happen to beat Northwestern, you get Nebraska, which has obviously been a thorn in your side the last couple years. Your thoughts about the prospects of playing them again?
COACH BLUDER: I think our team would like to have another opportunity to play them. We’re not spending any time talking about Nebraska this week because I feel like the most important game is obviously Northwestern. We all know that.
I think all of us would like to have another opportunity to play Nebraska. We did talk briefly yesterday about the kind of reverse. Last year we got the bye and played Nebraska who had to play the first day, and they beat us. Now we could reverse that. We play the first day, they get the bye, we play them in the second round.
Q. If you get into playing all weekend, are you going to be able to turn to the bench?
COACH BLUDER: That’s not the ideal situation for going into what you hope is going to be a long weekend, you hope is going to play four games. Would you rather have a deeper bench? Absolutely in this situation. But that’s not something we can change at this point.
Q. Why has your bench gotten shorter?
COACH BLUDER: I think we were playing the people that played well together, that were contributing, that were giving us the best opportunity to win at this point. So that’s the direction that we went.