Finals Pregame Media Conference
LISA BLUDER: I know a lot of people lost a lot of money in Vegas and elsewhere last night. Not a lot of people betting on the Hawkeyes.
So we’re just going to keep believing. We have one more game to our season. Our team was just thrilled we get to spend two more days together. Honestly I think that’s what they were most excited about. They’re playing for a National Championship, and they get to spend two more days together.
This is such a tight group. People have asked me, how are you going to get them ready to play this game after last night? It really isn’t hard. We’ve taken a business-like approach to this every single step of the way. Whether it’s the Big Ten Tournament or during the season after a big win like Indiana and going into the Big Ten tournament, whether it was beating Colorado, beating — it doesn’t matter. Like we turn the next page. It’s a veteran group, and they can handle it.
Q. Caitlin is obviously playing great right now. What strikes me, is she seems to play with a lot of joy. She doesn’t seem to get tight. She looks like she’s having fun all the time. What is the value of that, especially when you’re down and trailing? How does that rub off on the team and rub off on you?
LISA BLUDER: She loves the game of basketball. It is where she wants to be. It’s in a gym, and the bigger the spotlight, the more fun it is for her.
I think joy is contagious. I think our whole team actually plays with that joy, and that’s how we practice too. We always want to lead the Big Ten in high fives, and that’s not just during a game. That is during practice. That is during shootaround. We believe in that.
And we feel like this team brings a lot of joy to the people of Iowa. That is a real honor. To give people happiness that maybe are struggling with things. We go to the Children’s Hospital a lot, and those kids over there, when they get to watch that game for two hours and they get to cheer for the Iowa Hawkeyes and be happy about a victory, that’s almost as good as the win right there.
Q. To real quick ones. A, how much sleep did you get last night? B, just the status of the damage and stuff. I know your home is close to kind of the epicenter of where everything happened. Everything safe there? And as well as with your players.
LISA BLUDER: There was some really bad tornadoes that went through Iowa City in the Solon area, where I live. My favorite Mexican restaurant got its roof taken off. My house is fine, according to my neighbors. So we’re happy about that. We’re very blessed.
Again, a lot of people were without electricity last night, didn’t get to see this great game, which is unfortunate. I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep last night. My father-in-law used to always tell me, you sleep when you’re dead. That’s what we’ll work on.
Q. I’m not sure if you saw some comments last night from the South Carolina side, they seem to take offense to a narrative and words about the game against them being described as a bar fight. So I’m just wondering, A, if you saw the comments, and, B, if you had any reaction to that.
LISA BLUDER: I did not see those comments. I mean, if you know me, I speak tongue in cheek a lot, and I was just saying an analogy of you’ve got to rebound like you’re in a bar fight. That’s all. It doesn’t say who’s fighting, right? But that’s fine.
I’ve never been in a bar fight, by the way.
Q. Could you think of a better script than an Iowa kid leading Iowa to potentially its first National Championship ever? And then to do it with the most eyeballs that have been on women’s basketball in a long, long time. I mean, could you imagine this as a coach?
LISA BLUDER: No, but this was her dream. It really was. It was her dream to take us to something that we haven’t done in a long, long time and beyond that.
And when one kid dreams it, and everybody else is willing to jump on that train, it’s amazing what can happen. It was — that’s why she wanted to stay in Iowa. She wanted to be close to home so her family could see her play. She also wanted to have the opportunity to do something.
And she knew that we could develop players. With Megan Gustafson being the National Player of the Year, coming off an Elite Eight appearance. Those were really in our favor in helping to get her as well.
Q. Before yesterday’s game, how much did it mean to you to get the sweater from Lark Birdsong that belonged to Dr. Grant?
LISA BLUDER: There’s a story behind that. Dr. Grant hired me, hired Lark Birdsong, our first women’s coach, and she hired Angie Lee and she hired Vivian Stringer. Dr. Grant retired, and I had a strong relationship with Dr. Grant for all these years. She came to all of our games until she was too sick to do so.
Lark had a great relationship with Dr. Grant, as we all do, all of her coaches do. Lark cared for her quite a bit her last couple years of her life and helped her fulfill some wishes that she wanted, and one of the wishes of Dr. Grant was that she could see me, our team, in a Final Four.
The way they thought they could do that was by giving a piece of Dr. Grant, which was a sweater she wore. If you knew Dr. Grant, she wore these sweaters that were of Scottish wool quite a bit, V-necks, and she gave me a yellow one yesterday that Dr. Grant wore. I passed it around the circle yesterday, let everybody feel it, get a piece of Dr. Grant’s DNA.
Q. I know you grew up playing six-on-six, and watching Molly Bolin, who was at the game last night. What influence has that and the history of basketball in Iowa had on your coaching?
LISA BLUDER: Machine Gun Molly was here? Didn’t even know that. I watched her with the Iowa Cornets. Are you kidding?
Iowa basketball, I know some people can’t understand it, six-on-six. I played it. Coach Jensen played it. Coach Fitzgerald played it. It was so much fun. It was a scorer’s game. Coach Jensen scored 105 points in one game. Her average in high school was 66 points a game. Just crazy stuff.
But it was really fun, and you really learned how to shoot the ball. You learned how to be an offensive-minded person. Don’t ask us about defense, but we could shoot the ball.
So I think that sticks with you a little bit. We still love our offense. I know — I think we played some pretty good defense last night. Everybody keeps knocking our defense. I thought our defense was pretty good last night.
But offense is near and dear to us old six-on-sixers’ hearts.
Q. Just want to get your thoughts on LSU. They’ve got Angel Reese, a player that you guys are familiar with from her time at Maryland. Just interested in your thoughts on what they do well offensively. Then they’re also a very good defensive team.
LISA BLUDER: Excellent at both. I feel like, again, we’re playing South Carolina almost with a little bit better shooters.
Angel Reese is a fabulous basketball player, and obviously we coached against her when she was at Maryland. We coached against Poole when she was at Ohio State. So we do have some familiarity with these players.
Angel just seems to be playing a little bit more free at LSU. I mean, averaging 23 points a game. She shoots the ball incredibly well. But 6 1/2 offensive rebounds? We’re going against another rebounding monster team. They’re just incredibly good at that.
So we have our work cut out for us, but we feel like it’s a lot like playing South Carolina.
Q. Defensively last night, what did you like most about how your team executed on that side of the court? And I have one more quick one after this.
LISA BLUDER: I just like how they stuck to the game plan no matter what. Even if they made a three here or there, they didn’t panic. They tried their hardest at boxing out, but Cardoso is just too hard to box out. I told Addy O’Grady, get your volleyball girl on right now, because she was a pretty good volleyball player.
I think I liked that. I think I liked that they just believed in the game plan. They stuck to it. I thought Gabbie Marshall was so good. Zia Cooke had 18 the first half. She had 6 the second half. McKenna Warnock, Kate Martin, what they do for us defensively, obviously a lot of attention goes to Caitlin’s offense, but their defense, they were tough.
Q. For Caitlin Clark, from the time she stepped on campus and put on that Iowa uniform her freshman year and averaged 27 points, it’s not like she just came upon the scene yesterday and had a 41-point performance. But she has sustained her excellence. How have you seen her game evolve from day one to today?
LISA BLUDER: I think I’ve just seen more of a trust in her teammates. When she came from high school, a lot of those players — it’s no knock on high school players, but they couldn’t — they weren’t anticipating her passes and ready for them, ready to catch them, have the hands that a Monika Czinano has, weren’t quite ready to shoot. So she didn’t quite have that trust, and we had to build that up over time.
Obviously it’s there now. But, yeah, she’s been a spectacular offensive player. Her three-point range has increased since she’s been at Iowa, and a lot of that has been from the weight room and the job that our strength coach, Coach Alexander, does with our team. She put on eight pounds of muscle. I know you can’t tell, but she did. She put on eight pounds of muscle this summer, and that’s also helped her sustain some of the physicalness that she sees every day.
Q. You and Jan together for 23 years planting the seeds of hope when you come over from Drake. This was part of the dream, I’m sure, to be here with a best friend. How many people have made plans with best friends and roads eventually split. To stay the path the whole time and be there with her and that friendship, have you got a chance to reflect on that? What does that mean to everybody staying the course?
LISA BLUDER: Yeah, it’s also Jenni Fitzgerald. She came with us. She and Jan started the same year. So I coached with both of them just as long. Jan is unbelievable with our post. Jenni is unbelievable with our scouts. She does such a great job breaking down film.
This year we had a lapse where I had a coach that was out two months with having a baby, and Abby Stamp had a baby. Coach Fitzgerald — I’m lucky enough that I have a person with 30 years of Division I coaching experience that could step into that role and actually coach for that time. It was seamless, the transition.
The three of us have really — we call ourselves the three amigos. We’ve been together a long time. It’s not the three stooges, it’s the three amigos, okay? We’ve been together a long time, and this was definitely a dream. It feels very good to have it come to reality.
Q. I’m going to ask you to talk a little bit about yourself. You put South Carolina in some positions yesterday that few teams have been able to. So I’m curious how do you think you’ve grown as a coach throughout the season and continued throughout this run?
LISA BLUDER: I’m not sure if I’m much different as a coach honestly from — I don’t know. I think I’ve coached the same way for a lot of years. But when you get some super talent, right? That makes a difference. It makes an incredible difference.
So I think I’m the same person. I really have pretty much run a lot of the same offensive philosophy. I don’t really think that I’ve changed that much. I’m pretty ordinary and just blessed with some really great talent.
Q. Your team yesterday just showed enormous poise through the whole game. How did it get to that point? I mean, the same thing, I think you could say, in the Louisville game. But through the course of the season, how did they solidify and mature to the point where nothing seemed to bother them yesterday?
LISA BLUDER: We led that game for almost 36 minutes yesterday. Whether it got close, honestly, I did not see any hesitation in their eyes. What Kate Martin was saying to the team, between the third and the fourth quarter, was keep the gas on. Let’s keep going. Let’s not play not to lose, but let’s play to win.
I thought the team did that. Maybe because we never had a significant lead that we were not able to play like that really. But honestly this team didn’t waver in their belief ever during that game.
Q. You’ve talked about maintaining this same approach throughout the tournament. Kate Martin said a lot about the power of visualization. Despite all that mental preparation you try to do ahead of time, what’s surprised you about the run that you’ve made this far?
LISA BLUDER: What has surprised me? Honestly, we believed. We really did. I know you guys were surprised we beat South Carolina, and we were happy that we were able to, but we weren’t surprised. So I don’t know — I guess what would surprise me the most is the unbelievable Iowa support we’ve had here and how many fans that we’ve turned into Iowa Hawkeye fans.
When you can’t even do an ESPN interview at the end because it’s so loud with people chanting “let’s go Hawks” in this arena, that’s pretty neat. People didn’t fly here. They got in their cars, and they drove here, and that’s a long drive.
It’s been like that everywhere we’ve been. We had 9,000, 10,000 fans in Minneapolis, a five-hour drive away. We had people in Seattle, and we had people here in Dallas.
I guess what surprises me the absolute most is the level of love that the Iowa Hawkeye fans commit to this team.
Q. The players always talk about, why not us? They said you kind of started that mentality. How did that start?
LISA BLUDER: I just said it one day. It’s just basically, you know, I mean, why not us? We’re here. It’s kind of self-explanatory. Why can’t we be that person?
I always talk about people have these dreams, and they get so close to their dreams and they quit. They don’t know how close they are, right? You don’t know how close you are to finishing — you probably know how close you are to finishing the marathon when you hit the wall, but there’s so many times that you’re about to get that sale, or you’re about to get something, and you just give up.
So we talk a lot about that, like we’re not giving up. Just keep going. Keep going. Why not us? Why not us be the people that are at the top of the ladder at the end?
Q. Last night I saw a lot of Iowa fans here obviously, and I even saw some Virginia Tech fans who started cheering for you all after their game. What is it about your team and just the culture that you have that you think attracts fans in that way?
LISA BLUDER: Well, I just think our team is personal. They’re not scared to show their human side. They play with a joy. They play with teamwork. They celebrate each other. They build each other up.
It’s the American dream, right? Everybody wants to be a part of a team that really loves each other and cares about each other. I think you can see that in our team by the way we play.
Q. It’s sort of a two-parter: We talked last night about how that game was maybe the highlight, the number one of your career, where you’ve had so much — NAIA, Final Fours, right up through Missouri Valley, right to the present. I guess I just wondered two parts. One, whether you’ve stopped to think about what tomorrow is going to be like within the context of that career you’ve had, and also just as an Iowa native, what it means for you to be the one doing this at this moment?
LISA BLUDER: I’m proud to be an Iowa girl leading the University of Iowa. I grew up 30 minutes from campus. I didn’t go to the University of Iowa. I didn’t get a scholarship offer in the ’70s there. Both my brothers went to Iowa. My kids, both my daughters have went through the University of Iowa.
So it means a lot for me as an Iowan to represent our state. Iowans are, we’re proud of our state. We believe we feed the world. We really do. We believe in hard work. We believe in honesty and integrity, and I want that to shine through with my team because I want my team to have the values of what we represent back home.
As far as the magnitude of tomorrow’s game, no, I haven’t really given it much thought yet. It’s LSU on my scout, and I’m trying to get ready for it.
Q. You came into the locker room last night and said, this is our destiny. And the players have been saying that for a while now. When do you remember feeling that — or thinking or preaching or talking — that this run is this team’s destiny?
LISA BLUDER: I think, if I remember right, it was probably right before the NCAA Tournament started because it was just like kind of ironic, some of the things that were happening. Like we have Georgia, we played UCF last year in Carver, so we knew them. That was a tough game. The Georgia game was a tough game.
I don’t know if we wouldn’t have scheduled them. We scheduled UCF to play in Carver in December, and Florida’s coming to Iowa in December, and we were able to play them and that helped us get ready for that game.
There’s just been a lot of those type of things. This team is similar to this team. Colorado was at our place last year, so we had a scout already on them from last year. Just so many weird things have happened that we feel it is destiny.
Q. Obviously you want to celebrate that win last night. You want to make sure that people understand a lot of teams don’t get to this point, but you’ve got to finish the job. If you lose tomorrow, no one’s really going to care that you slayed the giant that is South Carolina. How do you find that balance with your team of making sure they’re allowed to enjoy that win but also understand we’ve still got one more to go?
LISA BLUDER: I have a really smart group, and they understand that. If we lose tomorrow, it will still be a big deal to me that we beat South Carolina and that we played in this game.
But, yes, our intent is to go out there and win, and I know that moving on to the next chapter is so important in preparation. You can’t be celebrating last game.
We keep talking, move on to the next one. You can’t worry about what’s in the rearview mirror. You can’t worry about the next thing. Be where you are right now. My team has been where their feet are the whole time. So that’s all I can ask.
And I think they’ll be where their feet are tomorrow on this championship floor.
Q. You’ve been around this a minute. When you think about that young girl that played at UNI to now — and I want to talk about the game of women’s basketball and where it’s come and the fans, the TV ratings that are superseding NBA games. Have you had time to think about that, your role in it, your team’s role in it, and what that means?
LISA BLUDER: I think my team has had a role in it. I do. I think people are talking about the Iowa Hawkeyes, obviously talking about Caitlin Clark, and that’s so good. It’s so good when people are talking about women’s basketball, and we’re having debates about who’s the best player, and it’s passionate debates. That’s so good for our game.
When I played at UNI, we might have had 200 people in the stands if you count my husband twice. I mean, it just wasn’t much. You might have gotten a paragraph in the back page of the UNI — I can’t remember what it was called now. I should know, but I don’t.
I mean, people just didn’t care. People didn’t take us seriously. We had one set of practice gear. I wore Brooks tennis shoes. We got one pair for the year.
Then my first job, I drove the van, and I had to recruit my husband to drive the other one sometimes. We were telling the story yesterday how we stopped at a rest stop one time, and I left a player there, Wendy White. Two exits later, we realized Wendy wasn’t in the van, and we had to spin around and go get her. She was standing there on the side of the highway, so we got her.
It was just a different time. And I’m so glad, I’m so glad that I got to grow up during this time. I’m so glad I have a respect for the women that went before me that helped lay the ground work. People — obviously, Vivian Stringer, Pat Summitt, Tara, Dr. Grant. I’m so thankful, and I know Dr. Grant would be so happy right now if she could be a part of this, and I know she’s so thrilled for us.
Yeah, it’s come leaps and bounds. I know Dr. Grant would say, it’s not still good enough, though. And it probably isn’t. We still have work to do, but we’re getting there. And I am so glad I got to see what it was because I have an appreciation for it now.
Q. You mentioned how great your defense was last night.
LISA BLUDER: “Great” might be a strong word.
Q. Good? Some of the LSU players noted the way you dared their guards to shoot a little bit, and I’m just wondering, without giving away too much of your game plan, if that might have to change a little bit considering the way Alexis Morris is playing right now —
LISA BLUDER: And Poole.
Q. And their ability? And Poole.
LISA BLUDER: Yeah, they can shoot the ball better, no doubt. We’ll have to change things up.
Q. After Caitlin Clark’s first game, you said, this is what we expected. You talked about things she’s done to improve her game, but what has surprised you against what she’s done? Also Monika as well. 18 points against South Carolina is no small feat. What has surprised you about those players?
LISA BLUDER: I am so happy for Monika. Monika was not highly recruited out of high school at all, and we saw something in her. We saw somebody that would embrace the contact and got down there and sealed and worked really hard on that. There’s a lot of big girls that don’t want to be down there, that don’t want to embrace the contact, but we run a system where we needed a post like a Megan Gustafson, that would embrace that contact and people that we’ve had before that.
I don’t even think we took a chance on her. We believed in her. Her shot was messed up when she came. It was bad. Her freshman year, her shot was really messed up, and she’ll tell you this.
Honestly, it was all of her hard work. Between her freshman and sophomore year, she was in the gym doing soft touch over and over and over again, back to the fundamentals. Then are you kidding? She leads the country in field goal percentage shooting?
Her junior and senior year — I think she’s in the top four right now this year. That is an unbelievable success story, and she did it through her hard work and her belief in Coach Jensen’s post development. So that’s pretty cool.
Caitlin, where have I seen her grow? What has surprised me? I don’t — honestly, don’t take your eyes off Caitlin. Nothing surprises me anymore. Honestly, I see it every day in practice. She practices like she plays. You guys, these are things we see every single day. It’s hard to surprise us right now.
What I’m most proud about with her is just her composure on the court, her ability to mission focus. She used to be a little bit of a wild card out there as far as her emotions, and I think she still plays with joy, but she’s not letting her emotions get to her in a negative way. I think she had to learn that a little bit.
Q. Actually to follow up on that, Coach Bluder, after the NC State loss, I remember Caitlin said, I scored 40 points, but we don’t win and, look, we only had 10 assists. That’s not who we are. You’ve mentioned how she’s grown about playing with other players, but to me she’s even grown every single game this season. You can see that. Can you talk a little bit about that progress from her even since that game with NC State?
LISA BLUDER: I think the Maryland game it was so apparent for us. When we lost at Maryland, they did a box and one on her and just denied her, denied her, and wouldn’t let her touch the ball. Everybody tries to keep the ball out of her hands. Everybody does. But it was different there. I think then she realized I really, really need my teammates.
She’s always known it this year, but I think that was an example of, wow, I’ve got to really pour into my teammates because they’re going to carry us if we want to go far.
Q. I wanted to follow up on the bar fight thing briefly, if you don’t mind. The full quote was complimentary of South Carolina’s offensive rebounding. I was wondering if you were a little surprised with the way maybe Dawn took that quote, and just clarify that was no ill intent in what you said there.
LISA BLUDER: There was absolutely no ill intent. I know coaches will take things and spin it to try to motivate their team. I’ve done that, I’m sure. So be it with that.
Yeah, I really meant it as a compliment, like you are going to have to fight harder than you’ve ever fought in your life to get a defensive rebound against this team because they are so good. That’s what my intent was.
Q. I know you’ve been up on the ladder. You’ve felt the confetti and all that stuff. What have you done, has the team done, to visualize winning a National Championship?
LISA BLUDER: I haven’t done anything yet. I still have to process that a little bit today and work on that. But we’ll come up with something.
Q. I know you had mentioned Angel Reese’s prowess on the offensive boards. Can you just conceptualize how she is just in general rebounding and the challenge it presents tomorrow?
LISA BLUDER: I mean, 6 1/2 rebounds a game, that’s incredible. Offensive. Offensive. 16 rebounds total, but 6 1/2, that’s what impresses the heck out of me.
It’s so hard to guard that because, like you saw last night, you give up three-point plays then too a lot of times. You give up the offensive rebound. They score. You’re out of position. You try to contest, you get a foul, three-point play. Worst play in basketball in my opinion, the old fashioned three-point play with a foul.
We had too many of them last night. But Angel does that. She’s able to do that. She’s so agile down there. Different type of then Aliyah Boston, who I thought was more physical. I think Angel is a better ball handler, will bring the ball down the floor, but she’s more just more agile. Very hard to guard.
We’re going to have our work cut out for us for sure.
Q. If you were an opposing coach game planning to stop Caitlin Clark, what would you do?
LISA BLUDER: Pray.
THE MODERATOR: Good morning and welcome to the Division I pre-National Championship press conference featuring the Iowa Hawkeyes. We are joined today by Caitlin Clark. We are going to start by fielding questions.
Q. We talked in Seattle. You said you felt the calmest you ever have in your whole life before Louisville. Did you replicate that last night? How do you do that again tomorrow?
CAITLIN CLARK: I honestly did. I felt very confident in our group and the game plan our coaches put together. I thought we came out and executed right away. I think the start of the game was really, really important for us. We showed we’re here to win. We’re here to play. We believe we can do it.
You know Kate Martin starts the game out with five consecutive rebounds, and I think that really set the tone there.
Yeah, I think I had that calmness about myself last night. I had a belief in my teammates. I thought we played really good basketball. I have to do the same thing on Sunday. I understand there’s only 40 more minutes left in my season, which is kind of sad because it’s been so much fun. But why not go cut down another net?
Q. There’s a lot of little kids in this arena and watching on TV who are falling in love with basketball because of how you play the game, the joy you play with. I wondered when you were a little kid, who was that for you? Who did you watch that made you love the game of basketball?
CAITLIN CLARK: I grew up loving basketball. So I watched a ton of players. The Minnesota Lynx team was like my favorite team, Maya Moore, Coach Whalen. It’s really cool now because I got to play against Coach Whalen, and very complimentary of my game.
To be honest, I just loved watching basketball. I had a cousin that played at Downey Catholic, where I went to school, and she went on to play at Creighton. I was her biggest fan too.
To be honest, I wanted to be around the game as much as I could. I remember my dad took me when Des Moines hosted a regional site. I think it was Baylor versus Tennessee. I think it was the last game Pat Summitt ever coached. Brittney Griner was playing at the time, which was super cool. To be able to say I got to see the last game Pat Summitt ever coached is so, so cool in my home state, in my home city. I just wanted to be around the game as much as I could.
Obviously I had college basketball on, pro basketball on. Whenever we were on spring break, we made sure we were around the TV to watch it. And I would instantly print off my bracket to make a bracket. Honestly, I love this game so much. I have ever since I was a young kid. My favorite player was always Maya Moore. She was always my favorite player.
I was drawn to her, one, because of her scoring ability. Also she’s a tremendous person. And she played for the Minnesota Lynx, which is the closest team to Des Moines, where I was from.
Q. Caitlin, where do you go mentally to compartmentalize to stay composed and poised in these big moments?
CAITLIN CLARK: I think the thing for me is I understand things aren’t going to go my way. I think accepting that, and that’s not always something I’ve had throughout my college career. When I haven’t gotten fouls called, when I’ve had turnover, when I’ve had missed shots, it’s kind of thrown me off my game a little bit.
I think the physicality is something I’ve just come to accept at this point in my career. People are holding me. I have scratches. I have bruises. But so does everybody else. You can’t complain. At this point of the season, refs aren’t going to call it, nor could they down the court.
I think it’s just come with my mental toughness and working on that and accepting things aren’t going to go your way. That’s the game of basketball. All you’ve got to do is respond and that’s what’s going to be best for your team.
Q. Some of the LSU players are scouting the game obviously from last night and thought it was, quote, this is their words, disrespectful, the way that you guys played their guards, and they’re not going to be able to guard us the same way the way they shoot the ball. I wonder if you have any reaction to the use of the word “disrespectful” in the way that you guys have guarded South Carolina on the perimeter, and what might have to change against LSU considering they’re a better shooting team?
CAITLIN CLARK: I think LSU can shoot the ball a lot better. We’re not going to guard LSU the same way we guarded South Carolina. Obviously with South Carolina, you’ve got to pick your poison. They play two tremendous posts.
If they were going to beat us, we were going to let it be by the three-point line. You have to pick and choose your battles. We can’t guard everything. That’s the game of basketball. You have a scout. You know player personnel. What are you going to give up? That’s what we were going to give up. We had all the respect in the world for South Carolina, and especially their post play.
We’re a smaller team. We had to go down there and double them. They still doubled us on rebounding. But we never got discouraged, and I think that speaks to this team is, I know Mon had a few just go right over her head. She tried her best to box out. Mon, it’s okay. You’ve got to keep your head up. We’ve got this.
I think it’s just confidence and resiliency. You’ve just got to pick and choose within a scout. And Coach Bluder is a very good coach about player personnel. We’re going to have a different game plan for every single team.
Q. We talked a lot in the last week about growth in the game and how many eyeballs are watching this and such. I think you have tickets tomorrow going for more than Taylor Swift down the road.
CAITLIN CLARK: Hey, I’m going to Taylor Swift in June too. That’s pretty awesome.
Q. Maybe she’ll bring you on stage.
CAITLIN CLARK: Maybe so. That would be cool. Hopefully she likes women’s basketball. She should stay for the game tomorrow. How about that?
Q. Agreed. Just with what you guys did last night and the other game was also a really good game and all that’s come with the attention on this game. How would you like to sort of put a final bow on this for the season to maybe help this game grow even more tomorrow with what you do and what this game could bring with an ABC audience and everything that comes with it?
CAITLIN CLARK: I think winning a National Championship is how you put a final bow on it. I think that’s the best way, but we’re going to give it everything we have for 40 more minutes. We know that’s all we have left of our season. That’s all we have left with McKenna and Monika, who have given their heart and soul to this program. Mon came back for a fifth year to be in a position like this.
More than anything, they’re my best friends, and I’m going to be so sad that I don’t get to go back to practice with them. Even though my body hurts, I would give an arm and a leg for those girls.
I think it’s just the belief we have in one another. We might not be the most welcome. We might not be a team full of five-star athletes, but we have a love for one another that’s always going to be there for the good and the bad. We’ve had plenty of hard moments this season, but that’s what makes you great in these moments.
So I think the way to put a bow on this is a National Championship, but also exemplifying what women’s basketball can be and how fun it is. The joy and the passion that we play with, us and LSU, because I think they do a tremendous job as well, and they bring a lot of excitement and fun to the game.
So I think it’s just a great matchup for women’s basketball in general.
Q. Two parts to jumping off what was asked: One is we covered you obviously in the women’s game for a long time. This has been sort of an order of magnitude more fame obviously as this run has happened. I’m wondering whether there’s a moment or moments that that’s hit home for you. Wow, this has really gotten huge.
CAITLIN CLARK: Honestly, I don’t think it’s really hit me yet. I don’t think it will hit me for a couple more weeks. I’m trying to enjoy every single second of this.
I will say what I really loved is I saw so many videos of people back in Iowa City, just every single bar completely packed, screaming about women’s basketball. That’s so, so cool to see your impact on your university and your state.
People love this game. They love this team. And I truly don’t think we would be here if it wasn’t for our fans, the way they’ve traveled at home, at the Big Ten Tournament, out in Seattle, but now here. I think people understand these fans know what women’s basketball is. They’re not just here to scream because we’re here. They’re here because they understand the game and how great we play it. That’s why they’re here, because they can appreciate it.
I think that’s the biggest thing, what I’ve appreciated most about this journey. It’s going to take me some time, a few weeks to reflect on everything that’s happened. More than anything, I’m grateful, and I want to end it with a championship.
Q. That’s just the other part of it. We were talking to Lisa about being an Iowa product and doing this. How meaningful is it to be doing this as an Iowa product with an Iowa head coach? Have you thought about what it’s going to be like to head home after this?
CAITLIN CLARK: Yeah, that’s the reason I came here is to be in this moment right now because I believed in Coach Bluder. I believed in what she could do. I think the thing that’s lost is I get coached hard every single day. Coach Bluder doesn’t think I’ve arrived. I don’t think I’ve arrived.
I want to be coached because I think I can get that much better. But to be able to do this for a university and a state that has given so much to you and supported you so much, it means the world. I know, when we get back to Iowa City, hopefully we’ve cut down another championship net, and I’m sure it will be wild.
But I’m just going to enjoy every single second because you may never get back to this point, and it’s really rare and really hard to be here.
Q. Caitlin, just for you, how do you kind of balance embracing what you guys accomplished last night but knowing there’s still a bigger task at hand? Was it enjoy it in the locker room, and right when you leave the locker room, were you set, or how did you guys kind of handle that?
CAITLIN CLARK: I think it helped that we didn’t get back home to the hotel until 12:30. So our only option was to go to sleep. We weren’t up just thinking about what we had done and things like that.
I think like Coach Bluder said is enjoy this. What you did is special. But at the same time, why not win one more? That’s what we’re here to do is win another basketball game.
I have all the confidence in this group that we can do that. It’s the National Championship, that not hard to wake up for. It’s not hard to give your heart and soul for. That’s exactly what this group is going to do, and that’s what we’ve done all year.
We played three back-to-back-to-back games against three great teams in the Big Ten Tournament. This is our third weekend of basketball in the NCAA Tournament. We’re ready for this. We’ve been through challenges. We’re prepared.
Q. What would you tell another — a five-star recruit who maybe wasn’t from Iowa? What would you advise as far as considering Iowa? What are the benefits that recruit might find at Iowa?
CAITLIN CLARK: I could make you a really, really, really long list. I think the biggest thing is, when you are thinking about a school, I think for me, is I didn’t want to go somewhere that only just cared about me playing basketball. I was going to go to a school that cared about me as a person.
I think that’s lost in today’s world. Coach Bluder, we could have lost in the first round of this tournament, and she was going to love me the exact same way and be there for me for the rest of my life. To me, that means way more than ever cutting down a championship net or hoisting a trophy, and I truly mean that.
This just comes along with the love we have for one another is being in positions like this. If you want to play in front of soldout crowds, if you want to play for a fan base that understands what’s happening in women’s basketball, you come to the University of Iowa.
But I also will say, it’s not just the University of Iowa. It’s Ohio State, it’s Drake, it’s UNI. Our whole state understands what the game is and what it can be. I think that speaks to the talent level at the high school level and at the AAU level. I played for All Iowa Attack, and a lot of my teammates are now playing for teams in our home state and thriving on those levels.
I think Coach Bluder’s résumé speaks for herself. She’s a tremendous coach, a tremendous person, and every single person in our locker room is valued. At the end of the day, I think that’s way more important than ever cutting down a net.
Q. Caitlin, if you go back to December 1st when you guys lost to NC State, you’re 5-3 at that point. Tough competition. I think you said after that game you scored 45 but only had 10 assists. As a team, you guys weren’t playing Iowa basketball. Can you talk about both how you and the team have improved from that game? The trajectory has just been upwards since then?
CAITLIN CLARK: First of all, I think giving our coaches credit for the schedule they created this year. We played some really tough games at the beginning of the season. NC State, UConn, Oregon State is not an easy team to play. We traveled to Kansas State; lose there. Just a long list of really tremendous teams.
That’s all you can ask is to be put in those situations, and those are the games you want to play in. But like you said, that wasn’t Iowa basketball. You can’t have 10 assists. That’s not going to cut it.
I think obviously Gabbie Marshall was kind of struggling with her shot at that point in the season, but we had all the belief in the world in her and knew she was going to get going. We just got back to the way we play — everybody contributing, everybody working hard on defense.
Yeah, that was not a good game for us. 45 points but a loss is never too great. I think we all understood our potential, what we could be. It was just we all had to give more. We had to get back to what we’re really good at, and that’s sharing the basketball. High assists and high mid-field goals. I think that’s you’ve seen throughout this tournament.
Q. Clearly I cover LSU, but my timeline last night was a lot about you and obviously your performance. A lot of comparisons to Pete Maravich with the ball handling and the shot making. Are you familiar with his game? What does that compliment mean to you in today’s age?
CAITLIN CLARK: I am familiar with his game. I’ve seen a lot of his highlights. Obviously a tremendous compliment. I saw somebody called me like Ponytail Pete or something like that. I thought that was kind of funny.
I think just a tremendous compliment. Like you said, I take a lot of pride in being able to do a lot of different things for my team, whether it’s scoring, but also I think the passing can get overlooked at times. Monika has really tremendous hands and makes me look really, really good, but also you have to pick your poison with this team.
Leaving McKenna, leaving Gabbie is a mistake, and Kate Martin just comes through when you need it. I think it’s a tremendous compliment. I am very familiar with Pistol Pete. A lot of people have been saying that since I was even in high school. So kind of a cool compliment.
Q. First of all, because you said you printed off a bracket. How’s your men’s bracket doing? Did you correctly predict any of the Final Four teams?
CAITLIN CLARK: I actually didn’t do a men’s bracket this year. Yeah, I had the Iowa men in my heart all the way, but it’s okay. They had a great season.
Yeah, I’m sure my bracket would have been a disaster on the men’s side anyway. It’s been fun to watch the men’s tournament as well. I have basketball on whenever.
Q. The other thing I was going to ask is you said a second ago that you don’t think you’ve arrived. Coach Bluder doesn’t think you’ve arrived. If you win tomorrow, have you arrived?
CAITLIN CLARK: No. I’m lucky enough that I’m only 21 years old. I feel like I have so much left in the tank to give to this game. I think I can get so much better.
You know, I did have eight turnovers last night. That wasn’t too great. So I just think there’s so many more ways that I can improve, and I truly believe that. I understand I have quite a bit of skill, but there’s always so many areas to refine and get better.
Stats never lie. They never do. Film never lies, and I watch a lot of it. We analyze a lot of stats, especially after the season, in areas you can get better on.
In today’s world, they have a stat about literally every single thing you could ever imagine. What’s it like shooting off a screen, a downscreen, a cross-screen, flare screen. So many different stats, which I think is really cool. Coach Bluder is a huge stat person.
So, no, I don’t think I will have arrived when we win the National Championship tomorrow. I have another year in college, and then hopefully a long professional career as well.
Q. This is actually a pretty good segue. You just talked about stats and breaking down film. What I’d like to know is what’s the Caitlin Clark scouting report on Caitlin Clark?
CAITLIN CLARK: You just watch Debbie Antonelli’s videos she’s been putting on Twitter because I gave an entire scouting report and I still do it in the game. I’ll tell you, but if you just watch my games, not much ever changes.
I like the stepback going to the left. I think the thing that makes it really hard is we run a read-and-react offense. You never know what’s going to happen. You can’t scout that. You can try all you want, you can work on actions, but you never know what you’re going to do because we don’t even know what we’re going to do.
I think that’s the best way to play basketball. You’re just making reads. You’re using your brain. Coach Bluder says, just be a basketball player. Don’t be a robot. Be a basketball player.
That’s why people like watching Iowa women’s basketball. We make reads. We have fun. We play up tempo. We want to get out in transition.
I think for me the area that I want to thrive in is always transition. That’s why I take pride in getting on the defensive glass and pushing the ball because I think it’s so hard to guard us, especially with the way our fours and fives run the floor. And Kate and Gabbie can spot up for threes, I think that’s really, really hard for us.
Everybody knows what I’m going to do at this point. It’s just, I don’t know, that’s what I always tell myself is just be you. That’s all you can do.
Q. You’re obviously the leader of this team, but Coach Jensen was talking last night about how you’re also the emotional barometer of this team, and when you hit those big shots, obviously, that can be a huge burst of momentum for your team. Also on the flip side of that, when you get frustrated with calls or something’s not going well, sometimes that can seep into the team too. I’m curious over the last three years how you’ve sort of evolved in that way or matured in that way to maybe not let that flow into the team as much?
CAITLIN CLARK: I think that’s where my biggest growth has been honestly over the past year is just understanding things aren’t going to go my way. Sure, do I get fiery and competitive and still talk to the refs? Absolutely. I’m never going to completely stop doing that because I don’t think I’d be the player that I am if I did.
I have teammates that come up to me and calm me down and things like that. I think my teammates understand I am fiery, I am competitive, and I think that’s what they feed off of honestly. I think they do, whether good or bad. I think they’ve just had my back through it all. I’m lucky enough to have teammates like that that understand the competitor I am and I think that’s what makes us who we are.
Q. Coach said one of the stats she cares most about is high fives and leading the league in them. Where do you rank in the Iowa high-five list?
CAITLIN CLARK: I’ve got to be up there. I’ve got to be up there in the chest bumps too. I’ve got to be up there. I don’t know. We always talk about that. We always want to high five, but also just smile, be happy to be here. We’re happy to be here. We love this game. We love one another.
And I think, if you watch our bench, the girls that never get in the game, they’re the most excited people in the world. I think that speaks to the culture Coach Bluder has built. They know that they’re a part of this. They know that they have a role. They know that we wouldn’t be here without them, and I truly mean that because those girls put in a lot of hard work, and they never get to see the floor. That’s such a hard position to be in.
It’s hard coming from being your star at a high school and you come here and you don’t even get in the game. So I think it speaks to the culture that Coach Bluder’s built. We always talk about just loving your person to the left and right of you, and that’s going to get this team really far.
Q. The second part is I know in Seattle you looked at the stat sheet after a triple-double and go nine turnovers, ugh. And then the eight turnovers yesterday. Do you know what you did in the game? First player to have back-to-back 40-point games in an NCAA Tournament, triple-doubles. Do you have any clue when you’re playing what your numbers are during games?
CAITLIN CLARK: I think somewhat. I think at times a lot of the turnovers I have are self-inflicted, which is frustrating for me. But at the same time, as a good player, you can always feel when you’re in the zone a little more, and that’s what I’ve kind of felt throughout this tournament, and that’s what I want to carry into tomorrow is just stay right there, stay in the zone.
Be confident in yourself. Be confident in your teammates. I know they have all the confidence in the world in me. When I miss a few shots, they come up to me, they’re like, that was good. Keep shooting it. That’s a great shot.
That’s even when Coach Bluder says. When people miss a really great shot, they’re not going to be mad. They’re going to be happy you shot that. That shows you believe in yourself. We always want people to shoot really great shots.
Q. There’s a phrase, with great success comes great responsibility. I think you’ve seen that, very much so. So you and your teammates, there’s so much attention and so many pesky media requests from people like us, which thank you for taking them, but are you able to get that downtime, the quiet time, the recharge time? And in those quiet moments, what are those conversations with you and your teammates? What are you saying to each other?
CAITLIN CLARK: I think those are really important times, but also like all of this and all of the media, I really appreciate you all being here because this is how our game grows. To all the local media that’s traveled from the state of Iowa, I really appreciate that as well and the way you’ve covered us is certainly incredible. It means a lot to this team and our program. So thank you.
But also, I think it is very important to take time to yourself and reflect and focus and get off your phone. I think is the biggest thing, and that’s something we’ve really talked about throughout this whole postseason.
Quiet time is really good, but also I understand I’ve got all the time in the world to sleep after tomorrow. So, yeah, I’m going to give it everything I’ve got, and then I can sleep for two weeks.
Q. Just talk about playing in the Big Ten and how that’s prepared you for this tournament and today.
CAITLIN CLARK: Yeah, I got to give all the credit in the world to the Big Ten. I truly believe we could have had three to four teams in the Final Four, and I really believe that. I feel for Indiana. They had a tremendous, tremendous year, and then to have an early exit, that was us last year. It really stinks.
I thought Coach Moren coached those girls incredible all year long. Mackenzie Holmes had one of the best seasons I’ve ever seen. I thought Indiana was amazing, but also Ohio State, Maryland. I mean, Illinois beat us. Just so many great teams. Purdue gave us a great game to start the Big Ten tournament.
I believe it’s the best conference in America. I think we’ve had the work to show for that. And it’s prepared us for this moment honestly. It truly has. The.
We’ve been put in a lot of end-of-game situations where you’re down two, you’re up two, where you really have to execute and things like that. You saw that on full display last night, and I think you’re going to see that on full display tomorrow too.
Q. What was that moment like in the circle yesterday when you got to hold on to Dr. Grant’s sweater?
CAITLIN CLARK: That was tremendous. Dr. Grant, I think it’s really incredible that we’re doing this in the year that’s 50-year anniversary of Title IX. 50 years may seem like a long time to a lot of people, but it’s really not. It’s not that long. To be able to have an opportunity to play for one of the universities that was at the forefront of women’s athletics and giving women the same opportunity as men and to be able to play a sport and a game you love is pretty incredible.
I know — I wasn’t one that ever really got to know Dr. Grant too well just because she was at the end of her life, but Coach Bluder was the last coach she ever hired and very close with Coach Bluder. So she’s always passing along things that Dr. Grant taught her, and I’m very grateful for everything Dr. Grant did because I know how proud Dr. Grant is up above of us because she believed we could be in this moment. She believed Coach Bluder could lead us to this moment.
So for her to save something for Coach Bluder when she made her first Final Four, that’s very thoughtful. Just an incredible moment.
Q. Two parts. What time did you finally get to sleep last night? And when you close your eyes and visualize winning a National Championship, what do you see?
CAITLIN CLARK: I think I went to bed like 2:45. It’s always hard to sleep after a win and competing so hard. But I got like seven hours. I woke up at 9:45. So that’s like good sleep for me, and we’ll have some downtime later today.
Like I said, it’s really easy to wake up for a National Championship. Being tired is not going to be an issue with me. Having bruises is not going to be an issue. Being sore is not going to be an issue for anybody on our team.
Yeah, I think visualization is one of the things I always do before games is see yourself where you want to be. I think that’s so important. It’s something like I always talk about with our sports psychologist is visualize greatness. See yourself hitting game-winning shots. See yourself hoisting a trophy because why can’t that be you? Because it can.
Q. Lisa talked about Jan scoring 66 points in a season on average and 105 in a game. What do you remember or what do you know about that 105-point showing? Do you and Coach J ever talk trash?
CAITLIN CLARK: We talk trash, come on now. Yeah, Coach J, I always give her crap and tell her to go shoot at practice and stuff. She did the other day, and she shot this crazy weird hook shot thing that I’ve never seen in my life.
Yeah, Coach J, like one of the best players to ever play in our state as well. She’s a legend. She’s way more popular than I even am. You should see this woman’s phone, it’s incredible.
I think the thing about Coach J is people love her to death, but it’s because of the person she is. She’s given up a lot of head-coaching opportunities to help this program get where it is, and even Coach Fitz, those three have been together since their time at Drake.
Yeah, I like to talk crap to Coach J because she likes to think she can score better than me, but she can’t.
Q. You talked about growing up a Lynx fan. I wonder if you could talk about that in two ways, if you have specific memories of seeing them in person or just what that experience was like. Also just the fact that there was a model franchise, that there was a team with these great players to be able to look up to in the same way that so many young players are looking up to you now?
CAITLIN CLARK: Yeah, absolutely. It’s actually kind of a crazy story. I’ve loved the Lynx, and I forget what happened, but my dad, like I couldn’t go to something. So he was like, all right, I’ll take you to the Lynx game instead. So I was like, all right, let’s go.
So we’re road-tripping to Minneapolis, and we’re in like the hotel, and I think I went swimming before all my myself, with my dad in the hotel pool. He called the ticket office, oh, I want to bring my daughter to the game. The guy at the ticket office, no clue who he is or where he is now, he’s like, oh, do you guys want to come before the game and sit on the court and see all this stuff?
My dad was like, oh, absolutely, she would love that. He got me like a Rebekkah Brunson shirt and like Lindsay Whalen came over, Seimone Augustus came over. Clearly, I don’t even know how old I was, but these are vivid memories in my mind, and they were playing the Seattle Storm.
So I think it was just — I think that just shows how much I love the game from a very young age, and at the same time, that inspired me even more. When I got to go and experience something like that, but also the arena was packed for the Lynx. They love the Lynx, but because the Lynx were really, really good. They had dominance there for quite some time.
And Lindsay Whalen is one of the best point guards ever to touch a basketball. So I grew up really inspired by that team, and I think, you know, when I was able to go to a game that only encouraged that more.
Q. (No microphone).
CAITLIN CLARK: I don’t. I had to be pretty young. That’s probably a question for my dad because he probably remembers.
Q. I remember a couple months back you said, “People need to play with that fire. I play with that fire.” Now here we are at the National Championship Game. Social media is buzzing over the, quote, unquote, two best trash talkers in the country, you and Angel Reese. I presume you view that as a positive thing, not a negative thing, playing with passion. Do you view that as a good thing for this game?
CAITLIN CLARK: Absolutely. I think I view matchups that people get really excited about as a really good thing for this game. I think that’s what excites people and gets them to the TV. When they turn the TV on, they understand it’s not an individual game. It wasn’t Caitlin versus Aliyah. We weren’t even matched up against each other at all. It’s not going to be Caitlin versus Angel. That’s not going to win a National Championship, but that’s what gets them excited about watching the game.
I think more than anything people are starting to understand women can play with excitement and a passion and a fire about themselves. That’s what’s fun. That’s what people want to see.
But you leave it on the court. When you step off the court, you’re friends. You support one another. You love the game. You love getting to watch them. I’ve loved watching LSU this year. They’ve been tremendous. And what Kim Mulkey has been able to build there in her short time is nothing short of remarkable.
So I have all the respect in the world for them, and I think it’s going to be a tremendous game.