Q-and-A: Bluder Reflects on 2013-14

May 19, 2014

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s May edition of Hawk Talk Monthly, the UI athletics department’s online publication.

The University of Iowa women’s basketball team enjoyed a special 2013-14 season. The campaign featured 27 wins, equaling the second-highest total in program history, and 14 home wins, also equaling the second-most in school history.

Iowa was 1-of-14 teams nationally — the only Big Ten team — to make its seventh-straight NCAA Tournament appearance this season, and 1-of-21 teams to advance to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons.

UI head coach Lisa Bluder looked back on her 14th season at the helm of the UI program with hawkeyesports.com in this Q-and-A:

“Fun,” said UI head coach Lisa Bluder when asked to describe the 2013-14 UI team in one word. “This team had fun together and enjoyed being around each other. Winning is always fun, but that’s not the main reason that this team was fun to be around. They were fun to be around because they enjoyed each other. They enjoyed coming to practice, believed in each other, and that’s what made the season fun.

“Cohesiveness is another adjective I would use to describe this team. When you’re ranked that high in assists… that is impossible to do unless you believe in each other. If you’re selfish you don’t do those things. It was a very cohesive group that was unselfish that believed in team work, and because they bought into all of those things, that is why we won.”

Where does this season rank for you?
“This year has to be one of the top ones because of the satisfaction knowing people didn’t expect it. When people expect you to be good sometimes that comes with pressure. I don’t think people had high expectations for our team.

“We certainly weren’t ranked in the top three (in the Big Ten preseason poll). Although personally, our team always felt we should have been in the preseason polls. People on the outside always thought, ‘How are they going to make up for the loss of Morgan (Johnson) and Jaime (Printy)? They don’t have much depth. They don’t have much height.’

“We never looked at ourselves that way. Our team always believed in ourselves. It is satisfying doing something people don’t think you’re going to do, and nobody would have picked our team to finish in the top-20 in the polls this year.”

Favorite on-court memories from this season?
“There are quite a few. The Syracuse win was huge, and Dayton was also big as we won in overtime and secured our first top-20 win. The Cancun (Challenge) wins were fun. It’s different when you’re there. It’s a different feel.

“The win at Ohio State was also fun; the players recognized that we hadn’t won there and it was neat to see how excited they got. The Penn State win was huge because it was a top-10 road victory… they don’t come around very often. Certainly, the win over Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament and having the opportunity to revenge that and advance to the semifinals was pretty big and the Ohio State semifinal win was huge.”

On the heroics of Samantha Logic
“Who does that? Who loses a tooth and comes back to knock down a three pointer to send it into overtime (in win over Dayton). Who gets their head stitched up and is in there waiting to get back out there again (in win over Syracuse). To me, that’s an incredible story.”

Favorite off the court memories?
The Program. Even though it was hell, it set the tone for our players showing what they could really do if they kept together and kept pushing. Sometimes, you do not know how far you can really push your body. That kind of opened their eyes to show them `I really can do more than I think I can do.’ That is a huge lesson, especially that time of year.

“Trips like our trip to Cancun are always incredible trips and locker room dances like the Penn State one that followed in our win at Penn State… those are moments you want to live over and over.”

Looking back, what sticks out in your mind on the night you passed coach Stringer for most wins in program history?
“What made it special is how happy the team was. Also, to have my Dad there on his birthday was pretty cool. Nick putting together that video was really neat. Because those are your former players, a former mentor, and then someone you have as a friend in Kirk (Ferentz) and someone you respect. That was pretty neat and people actually cared enough to stay around. It’s one of those things when you get the opportunity to stay somewhere long enough you’re going to be able to do some of those things, so you’re grateful.”

On April 7, 2000 could you have ever imagined…
“Never. Honestly, when I took the job we were just thankful that we were going to be here for five years. I signed a five year contract which was pretty good back then. We were like, `wow we have five years that we are going to be the coaches at this University.'”

What has Theairra Taylor meant to this program?
“She’s actually been part of this program for eight years because I was recruiting her. Everyone respects her so much. You respect her athleticism and the grace she plays the game with. I’ve always said that Theairra has always given me some of those “oh wow” moments and as a coach it’s exciting that after 30 years there’s still someone that can make you say “wow, that was a cool move or that was an unbelievable play.” And she has probably given me more of those “wow” moments than anybody else in my time here at Iowa.

“I can still remember when she called me to tell me she was coming here and how overjoyed I was that we were going to get this kid that I thought was a game-changer for us and luckily we were able to add some more to that puzzle. She epitomizes a Hawkeye because of her resiliency, her perseverance, her love for the game and for how much she embraced this community and this team.”

How much will we miss her going forward?
“Hopefully, the players that are currently here and have gotten to play with her are going to still carry on her lessons. Hopefully, she’s going to leave a little bit of those lessons behind in the kids. They are going to miss her because they care about her. They are going to miss her in the locker room and her example at practice. That’s why my job gets easier every year. Once you establish a set of values and once you establish a culture, then it gets passed on and on. I think that Theairra is definitely going to get passed down.”

How excited are you for next year?
“After a season is over I usually need to get away from basketball for a little while, but I didn’t feel that way this year. We are energized and excited for next year. I want to start practice right away and I wish those freshmen were here so that this team can see the potential of what we can accomplish. I think our fans can feel it coming.”

Where do you feel this program is at right now?
“Since I’ve been here, I feel like this is the best our program has ever been. When coach (C. Vivian) Stringer was here the program was unbelievable, but since I’ve been here, this is the strongest our program has been because of who we have returning, who we have coming in.

“Everything is in place… the facilities, our administration supports us, and the Big Ten Network has helped get the word out about Iowa basketball. It has helped us tell our story to everybody. People can see what we have and they want to be a part of it now.”