Oct. 29, 2015
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COACH BLUDER: Thank you for coming this morning. I appreciate having you here. The weather has turned. It’s time to start talking about women’s basketball. Our men are opening up tonight, so I think it’s time. But as you all know, we lost three starters from last year’s team that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, was ranked No. 11 in the country, and, yes, they were the all-time leading trio in Big Ten history. But I can assure you it’s not all doom and gloom around our program.
We have great optimism in the gym, and we have a group of women that are kind of excited about proving everybody wrong. And I also think that’s one of the joys of athletics is when people count you out and you really go out and prove everybody wrong.
Even though the faces have changed in our program, the culture remains the same. We have the same group of women that want to come out and achieve, work hard every single day in practice, achieve academically, and be tremendous role models. They represent our program in a first-class manner. So that has not changed. Even though the faces have, those women have the same goals and the same values that we’ve had for the last many years.
The anchors are probably the usual suspects, what you would expect. Ally Disterhoft is definitely going to be in a different role for us this year. She was our leading scorer on our team last year, she’s had two terrific seasons in an Iowa uniform. She’s been named to the All-Big Ten preseason poll, which is a great honor, and it shows you the respect that everyone around our league has for her.
I also want to mention again, I don’t think this got enough play last year that she was an academic All-American. The only sophomore in America named as an Academic All-American. Again, we were the only school in America that had two Academic All-Americans on our team with Sam and Ally. I just think that is tremendous.
Whitney Jennings is another starter that returns for us. You all saw what she was capable of doing in a Game Time League this summer where she was named MVP of the league, but also Whitney will be moving back to her more comfortable point guard position. She could play some off guard at times, like she did last year, but will primarily be back in that point guard.
She has so much speed. She is one of the quickest ball handlers I’ve ever coached, and that’s tough to defend. Kali Peschel, senior co-captain on our basketball team, also is going to have to have a different role for us this year, and she’s playing very well. She is going to be asked to be more of a leader for our basketball team, and to be more of a scorer for our basketball team.
Last year she was the second best three-point shooter on our basketball team. She shot nearly 45% from three-point range, and then that got overshadowed because of Melissa Dixon’s excellence at that position. She’s really, I thought last year at the end of the year was playing her best basketball of her career, and I feel like she’s just taken off from that spot right now.
Chase Coley’s going to battle for that starting center position, along with Megan Gustafson, one of our freshmen. Chase should come back as a more confident player this year, having a year of experience, but also I need to continue to remind her she was our leading field goal percentage shooter on our team last year. Chase shot 65% from the field last year, but this year obviously we’re going to need her to score a few more baskets than she did last year.
Alexa Kastanek is also playing extremely well right now. She’s made a big jump from sophomore to junior season. And I also think Christina Buttenham is playing very well for us, though she did miss again her second summer in a row of development with a stress fracture this summer, but she’s now 100 percent healthy and hasn’t missed a practice.
Claire Till and Carly Mohns are doing a great job for us on the boards, and I think we’re going to be a better rebounding team because of the efforts of those two women. And we are obviously welcoming four freshmen. The four freshmen were the 17th best recruiting class in America last year. Tania Davis led that group. She was considered the 36th best player in America, and the 12th best point guard. She was also named Miss Michigan Basketball. A very coveted honor up there, and the first Miss Michigan that we have had as a coaching staff. She is going to definitely be on the court quite a bit for us this year.
Megan Gustafson, she ended her high school career as the all-time leading scorer in Wisconsin history. She scored over 2,000 points in her high school career. She’s a 6’3″ left-handed post player and gives us a different look than Chase because she likes to be down in the block and she likes to have that physical contact. So she is going to play significantly as a freshman as well.
Hannah Stewart was named Miss North Dakota Basketball, and Tagyn Larson also a top player in the country coming out of South Dakota will play the wing position for us. So all of our freshman class will be counted on.
Our schedule, again, the in-state rivalries, of those three we’ll only be hosting one of them this year in Drake. We’ll be traveling to UNI. We’ll be traveling to Iowa State. We’ll be traveling to Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and then we’ll also be playing George Washington, the Pac-12 defending champion on a neutral court over Thanksgiving in a tournament in Austin.
Q. You didn’t mention the Italy trip. How valuable was that for the cohesiveness?
COACH BLUDER: The Italy trip was at the best time with eight freshmen and sophomores on our basketball team. You just need more repetition. You need more experience. The quicker that you can get that, the quicker you’re going to be successful. We were able to escalate that with our 10 practice days that we had. So tomorrow’s practice number 19 for our team, well, it’s really number 29. You only get 30 to prepare for your basketball season. So those extra 10 are significant for us with such a young team.
Helped also with chemistry, when you’re over there and you’re staying 12 days together and enjoying the culture of Italy, it really forms memories and bonds that you can’t form in any other way. So that was beneficial as well.
Q. Coming out of that trip, talk about the concerns that you have?
COACH BLUDER: Biggest concerns would be probably experience at the inside position. I think we’re rebounding the ball better than we did last year. I think that we can be a little more up-tempo than we were last year, even though we were the sixth best scoring team in the United States last year. I think that we can continue that maybe in a different fashion. Maybe not scoring as many threes, but being a little bit quicker getting the ball up the floor with Tania and Whitney both excelling at that position.
Q. NCAA many rule changes with the objective of increasing excitement and pace of play. Just your thinking on the changes?
COACH BLUDER: Yeah, the rule changes, we have four 10-minute quarters. I may have had math a long time ago, but it’s the same as two 20-minute halves. So I’m not sure how that quickens the game. It does have less media timeouts. We have two less media timeouts I believe than we did last year. So that will quicken it up a couple minutes. We go into bonus now on five, and it’s a double bonus.
There is no such thing as a one-and-one. I was a fan of the one-on-one. For one thing my team’s a good free-throw shooting team. When you face teams that aren’t as good of free-throw shooting teams, you get the benefit of the second free throw. Well, they oftentimes did not. So to me, that rule, I’m not a big fan of that change.
The other thing is we have the advancements in the last one minute of play, and that’s fine. We advance the ball like the NBA does in the last one minute of play if we call a timeout. So I think that will be interesting. It just gives us some different things to think about.
Q. Is it weird for you as a coach not having Logic running around running your offense?
COACH BLUDER: It’s weird to not have Sam around. But all three of them, to be quite honest, Melissa and Beth. But that’s because it’s more weird because of the relationships that you form. You grow together so much in four years, and they become like your daughters. So you don’t like to see them leave your program.
But certainly the experience is unusual not having them around because you have to explain things a little more. You have to explain things more often because they just don’t know yet as freshmen and sophomores. They haven’t been there. That doesn’t mean they won’t get there, that just means they haven’t been there yet.
Q. Sam had the ball in her hands a lot. Is Whitney the same style or will it move around more? Because Sam used to drive down in the lane and sometimes use her strength.
COACH BLUDER: Sam was that type of point guard because she was bigger, she had more bulk than either one of these. But both of these players are quicker than what Sam was. So it’s just a different type of look. I don’t know if these guys are going to go down there and post up. I would not want them to do that like Sam was able to do, but they can certainly beat people off a bounce better than Sam was able to.
Q. Will we see Tania and Whitney on the floor quite a bit together or will they be mostly just point guards? Or how will that work?
COACH BLUDER: The thing I enjoy about our offense is I consider our offense positionless basketball. What I mean by that is we don’t have to have the best number one, number two, number three, number four on the team or on the floor at the same time. What that affords you to do is have the best players, the best basketball players on the floor at the same time. So, yes, Whitney and Tania will be on the floor together.
Q. Watching Tania play this summer, she looks a little like Samantha, a little shorter, but she might be a better outside shooter. Is that something you’ve noticed too?
COACH BLUDER: Tania can definitely shoot the three. Sam improved. Sam wasn’t a very good three-point shooter as a freshman, but she was a decent three-point shooter by the time she left our program. Tania probably comes in as a better three-point shooter than Sam, and I want her to continue to make the advancements that Sam did too.
Q. How much of a priority is rebounding? How do you get better?
COACH BLUDER: Yeah, it was not a strength of ours last year rebounding, but some of those statistics, you have to be cautious with, especially offensive rebounding. We made more baskets than most people in the country. So there are less offensive opportunities to get rebounds too.
So I think sometimes you have to look at some of those types of statistics. But we have had a focus over the summer in rebounding and doing a better job at crashing and boxing.
Q. You talk about Chase having one of the best left-hands you’ve ever posted. That’s got to be important down low, she can post up either way and a little tougher match against anybody else?
COACH BLUDER: Chase has a great left-hand, but Megan is actually left-handed. So it’s kind of unusual. Both of them are pretty good with their left-hand. But those two players give us just an entirely different look, and I like that.
I like that we have two posts that bring different styles to the floor, because I think that makes it harder to guard. It makes it harder for the team to prepare for us because you’re going to have a fast, agile person like Chase that wants to be bring you away from the basket or you’re going to have somebody that’s physical and wants to be down on the block like Megan. And I think that’s a nice asset to have both types.
Q. You mentioned the development of Alexa; is that just because she’s seeing more playing time maybe? Or what specific areas have you seen her improve?
COACH BLUDER: I think Alexa has been a great student of the game the last two years. I think she has watched, she’s learned, she’s accepted her role the last two years of going in when we needed her and not forcing things. She really got to learn that. But now she’s not dumb. She sees the writing on the wall, and she knows that Melissa is gone, and she knows we need three-point shots. And she’s been in the gym and she has worked on it, and worked on it, and worked on it, and it’s paid dividends for her.
Q. Do you go more zone?
COACH BLUDER: Right now we really like our zone. We have enjoyed having the length in the back. Now we’re not very big up front, but in the back line we have some big wings, and we think we can cover a lot of ground with our zone. So we’re enjoying that, but, yes, we’ll still play both. I mean, we’re going to be a team that mixes up our defenses. At least that’s the plan moving ahead.
Q. Looking at the Big Ten you have 18 games, five of the last seven at home. How do you see the Big Ten Conference shaping up this year?
COACH BLUDER: It’s such a strong conference. I mean, it’s amazing. You have Maryland who was in the Final Four last year. We’re going to have them on our home court. So many teams ranked in the top 25 in the Big Ten. And this year we get the opportunity to bring Rutgers to our home floor, and I think that’s going to be special with Coach Stringer and bringing her back to Carver-Hawkeye Arena. I think it’s something the Iowa fans will look forward to. We played them last year and beat them on their home court, and that was a great top 20 road win for us.
We just have so many great schools in this conference. You look at Ohio State who returns everybody from last year. Michigan State who returns the bulk of their players from last year. Northwestern is going to be better than they were last year, and some people have them ranked in the top 25 right now. So that’s a new, really kind of a new school that kind of was at the bottom for so many years and has really done a great job of moving up.
So our conference is so strong. This is our last year of being 18 games. We’re going back to 16 games next year, and I think that’s going to be a nice reprieve next year for our team.
Q. You talked about there not being high expectations outside of the program. Have you guys gotten to the point where you guys expect to compete for a Big Ten championship every year?
COACH BLUDER: There is no doubt that that’s the way our staff feels. We feel like we’re recruiting players that buy into that. I mean, you want to recruit players that want to compete at the very highest level, and I think we’ve done that. So, yes, we want to every year be at the top of the Big Ten. Every year we want to be in the NCAA Tournament. We’ve been to eight straight. The only Big Ten school to do that. There are only 10 other schools in America that can say that. We want to do it again. We want to make it nine straight this year.
Q. Is it a case of reloading instead of rebuilding?
COACH BLUDER: I hope so. I heard somebody describe Kirk’s (football) program as a developmental program. I would have to say that we’re a lot like that as well. We bring players in here that may not be top 10 players in the country, and we develop them, and we take great pride in that.
I think our staff does a great job of developing players, and that takes time. So rebuilding or reloading, yes, I think it’s a little bit of both.
Q. Megan did she get star struck when she came into Iowa?
COACH BLUDER: Not too often, to be quite honest. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Port Wing, Wisconsin. You’re one mile away from Lake Superior. She could probably throw a fishing rod in there from her house. But Megan, she comes here and just think about this, our team is bigger than her senior class. There is a picture posted where her senior class is on her senior class trip and they fit in one van and one selfie, so, yeah, it’s a little bit of an adjustment for Megan.
Q. She held her own against Bethany this summer, and she gets to go against Nicole and Chase in practice. That’s got to give her some confidence.
COACH BLUDER: She is such a learner. She wants to learn. She wants to get better. She’s such an eager player in practice to be coached, which is what you love and she’s fun to coach. I can’t describe the steps that she’s made in our 19 practices. It’s been amazing.