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October 24, 2013As it is every year, the goal for the Iowa Women's basketball team is to return to the NCAA Tournament. Last year the Lisa Bluder and the Hawkeyes made it to the second round and they hope to go further this season. Bluder met with the media today in Iowa City and talked about her 2013-14 squad.
Thank you for coming this morning. We appreciate your being here to talk about Iowa women's basketball and learn a little more about our program. I don't like to start talking about a new season by talking about the end of it, but I think this is so important that I have to.
I want to applaud the efforts of our administration and the fans that came out to support us in last year's NCAA Tournament to help us get another one this March. It's a great honor to be one of the 16 host sites in the country, and now it's really up to myself and my staff and the women wearing those Hawkeye jerseys to make sure that we're back there again on March 23rd playing in Carver Hawkeye Arena for our seventh straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
I'm optimistic about that because I love the way practices are going. I love the energy that we have in practice. I love the focus that the women are coming to practice with every day -- their determination, discipline, and I think they're very focused. We have great energy in the gym right now.
We're being led by our lone senior, Theairra Taylor. She's a captain on our team and she's really the heart and soul of our basketball program. She's so talented, and I really want our fans to be able to share in that. I want them to be able to see what she has because she's spectacular at times, and I think you saw that in her game against Notre Dame last year, and I'm optimistic that she's going to pick up right from that spot, what I've seen so far in practices.
We also return our point guard, Sam Logic. Sam is a third year starting point guard for us. With that brings a lot of maturity and experience. She has already proved herself. She led the Big Ten and was 15th in the country in assists last year. But she's worked on our game over the summer. She worked very hard on her 3 point shooting, and it shows. She's becoming more of a scoring threat, and we needed her to be so. She's really rounded out her game with that, though.
Melissa Dixon also returns for us, the Sixth Player of the Year in the Big Ten last year. Melissa, in my opinion, was probably one of the best six players in the entire United States, not just the Big Ten. And she's better this year. Last year, she shot 43 percent from the 3 point line in the Big Ten. She led the Big Ten in that statistic. But, she also worked on her game very hard over the summer, and what she worked on was being able to beat people off the dribble drive so that she would not be a one dimensional player and be easy to guard just by somebody being in her face all the time. Now she has the excellent ability to get to the rim, as well. So she's become harder to guard.
Bethany Doolittle was our starting power forward last year. She's going to move to her more natural position, back to the basket center position. Bethany has with her some guard skills that she learned last year by playing on the perimeter, and that's going to help her this year. She's very familiar with coming out and hitting that 15 foot shot for us whether it's at the high post or the short corner, and that again makes her harder to guard than being a strictly back to the basket type of player.
I guess the biggest question for us is who's going to fill in at power forward. Who's going to take that starting position for us at starting forward, and there's a number of options. Kali Peschel and Claire Till could play there. Both have improved immensely since last year's season.
We could also start one of our freshmen, Ally Disterhoft could see playing time there. Ally and her fellow freshman Lexie Kastanek are both going to be asked to contribute immediately. Both of them are capable of it. Both of them come out of high school ranked as top 100 players in the country. Ally was a Parade all American, was the Gatorade Player of the Year for this state. Both want to compete and both of them will compete for us immediately. I think that we have the nucleus to do a very good job this year again in the Big Ten.
Another new face for us on our coaching staff, Lacey Goldwire, has joined our family, coaching family, and she's been a very welcome addition.
Again, we have a very competitive schedule. I keep trying to tell myself to lighten up on this a little bit, especially when you lose two starters to graduation. But again, we have a very tough non-conference schedule. The obvious in state schools, we're playing at Iowa State, at UNI this year, we'll be hosting Drake. But in our second game of the year we're hosting Dayton. Dayton could be ranked this year as top 15 in the country. They could be our toughest non-conference opponent that we have, and we're having them here in Carver Hawkeye Arena. They're a pick to win the Atlantic 10 conference this year, an excellent basketball team.
We're also hosting Syracuse in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, a team that was in the NCAA Tournament last year. In our tournament over Thanksgiving in Canc?'ll be playing against Boston College, we'll be playing against USC, so there will be another tough tournament for us.
And then we're starting a series with Colorado, and we're going to Boulder this year. They'll be coming to our place next year. That's another good series that we'll be starting this year.
But, I think all that should prepare us for another challenging Big Ten season.
Q. Kali had 22 rebounds in a game this summer. Is that something she's been stepping up and rebound is a lot about desire and she seems to be more aggressive.
COACH BLUDER: I think Kali is much more aggressive this year, and maybe that's just being a sophomore. Maybe it's seeing the writing on the wall that there is a position open and who wants to go claim it. Kali definitely has the ability to go to the boards for us, and we're going to need that. Losing Morgan, our top rebounder, we're going to have to have people fill in for those rebounds, and it's not just going to be able to fall on Bethany's shoulders or Sam's shoulders but we need to have other people contribute, and Kali is definitely someone that could do that for us.
Q. Is the center position your biggest concern now with Morgan gone?
COACH BLUDER: We don't have significant height behind Bethany, but we have players that can play that position, and I believe that we can change our style to fit what we have, whether at the Bethany at the center or Nicole Smith at the center or whether we have an untraditional center in there, maybe a five guard lineup with a Claire Till in there. We can do that. I think we can adjust our offenses and defenses to accommodate for our lack of height when Bethany and Nicole are not in.
Q. Give us your thoughts on how you see the Big Ten conference race sizing up this year. How do you think it's going to go? How does it look to you?
COACH BLUDER: Complete parity. I think there is nobody you can look at on the Big Ten and say, oh, this is a W. Those days are over for this Big Ten Conference. I think Nebraska looks very good. I think Penn State will be good. But it's just I think some of the people that were at the bottom of the Big Ten are going to be much improved, teams like Wisconsin and Minnesota that have kind of been down. They return a lot of their offense, and I think that they'll be much better this year.
Q. Talking about chemistry, Ally and Lexie really seemed to gel real well this summer. That's got to be important when they come in.
COACH BLUDER: Those two roomed together over the summer. They're not roommates now. I don't have my players room together as freshmen during the school year, but during the summer they do, and I think that helped them become even closer.
They are pretty close. It's nice to have that teammate going through the same things that you're going through. But since Ally has been around our program for so long, I think that's helped Lexie's adjustment, as well.
Q. You said Sam is focused more on scoring now. How do you plan to accommodate her pass first tendencies that she's had?
COACH BLUDER: I wouldn't say that Sam's focus has changed. I really believe she's added to her passing by having a shooting game. I don't think that that's going to take away from her pass first mentality. She's very proud of that. She's a team player. She wants those assists. That's really one of the philosophies of our program is last year, again, we were ranked in the top in the country in assists, and that's something that I think is a trademark of our basketball program. We're a very unselfish team, and we know how to pass for a better shot, to give up a shot to get a better shot.
So I don't think we're going to take away from her assists at all, but I do think she has the added dimension of now being really able to knock down the three with confidence.
Q. With Theairra being another year removed from the ACL injury, those things take time to heal and recover from. Do you see her returning to the athletic player she was?
COACH BLUDER: I really do. It's been fun in practice watching her. I think she's one of Sam's favorite targets in the fast break. Theairra started for us every game last year and made it through a great season. I expect her to elevate her production this year.
Q. Is Kathryn Reynolds back to 100 percent? She hasn't played in a couple years. Is she conditioned?
COACH BLUDER: Kathryn is not back to 100 percent. She had a lot of issues with her last ACL tear so she is not back up to 100 percent, but she is in 100 percent of practice.
Q. You haven't replaced a lot of assistants in your career but Lacey comes in this year. What will her specific duties be and how is she kind of fitting in with the staff?
COACH BLUDER: We haven't replaced a lot of assistants. In fact, I think Jan and Jenni have been with me for 22 years, so that's quite a while. And I thank them for that. They've been great. We feel like we're a good team, and Lacey fits really well with that team. It's been an easy adjustment having her come in with her program.
I think that since she's a little younger than the rest of us, she can relate to the players a lot better, and I think that's good. I think we need that. But, I also think she's going to be an excellent recruiter for us. I'm very optimistic about that, and she's already making significant inroads in that area for us.
I want her to be more than a recruiter for us, and she will, but there is a learning curve any time you join a new staff. You have to all-of-a-sudden change your terminology and what you want offensively and defensively. She's got to learn what kind of players I like and how we run our practices. So there's a learning curve there, but she's an eager student and she's watching film every day with us. She's going to be a great impact for us.
Q. The women's basketball officials have been charged this year with limiting the physical nature of the game immediately. They're supposed to right out of the gate be calling much tighter, particularly in non conference. What are your thoughts on this?
COACH BLUDER: We'll see. (Laughter.)
I hope it's true. I think if that's true, that will be better for us. It will be significant for us. I think that the way people could stop us before is they beat the heck out of us, they stopped us from cutting. They would just try to out physical us. If you take that out of the game and let our offense flow, we're pretty good. We can score a lot of points. So I think that will be good.
Now, I think it's going to be interesting to see the adjustment that all of us have to make to that official's whistle to begin the year because I certainly don't want my five starters sitting on the bench, either. So we may have to play a little bit more zone than we want to begin the year just to get used to that, but we're going to have to also learn the hands off, if it truly is called the way they're saying.
Q. If you started tomorrow who would be your fifth person outside of the four?
COACH BLUDER: Yeah, the good thing is I don't have to start tomorrow, so I still have another couple of weeks to figure that out. I gave you the three likely candidates, though.
Q. Iowa State is also going to be hosting an NCAA regional. What does that mean as far as the state of Iowa, to have two college programs be able to be in that select group of host sites?
COACH BLUDER: It's amazing. Sixteen sites in the whole country, and two of them are here in the state of Iowa? It shows you what kind of fan support we have and what kind of administration support that we have, both of us, for our programs. It's significant.
But for us to host NCAA tournaments and have different fan bases that will support both of those at a high level really talks about the interest of women's basketball in this state. Very thankful.
Q. Ally doesn't look like a real big physical player but she was aggressive this summer, hitting the boards hard, and she's not afraid to play inside?
COACH BLUDER: Ally is deceiving. She's a deceiving athlete. She can get off the floor. She can run. She has good hands. She could play the power forward for us. I'm not worried about her athletic ability and being able to play that. Right now as a freshman, sometimes your uncertainty slows you down because you're not exactly sure sometimes what you need to do. That's the only thing that's slowing her down right now.
Q. Claire was really playing well last year as a freshman until she got hurt. Has she taken another step forward?
COACH BLUDER: I think she has. I think Kali and Claire both have grown their games. I think they're more confident, as you should be as a sophomore. You've been through it now, you know what's expected, and that time and that education helps you to go out there and play hard and to know that that's the physical style that you need to play at this level. Both of them are playing much better than they did last year.
Q. Who do you see backing up Samantha at point?
COACH BLUDER: Well, we have two possibilities for that. We have Lexie Kastanek, a very versatile freshman that could play a number of different positions for us. But we are looking at her in the backup point guard position as well as Kathryn, and Kathryn is going to need a little bit more playing time. We're hoping maybe by Big Ten playing season that she's going to be more comfortable.
Q. If there's major changes coming, will the coaches have some input on those changes?
COACH BLUDER: I'm not sure.The leaders of our game are the input right now, and I don't think they're seeking a whole lot of input from the rest of us, but they're the ones that are kind of giving that input right now.
Q. Do you see any changes with the 10-second backcourt rule - a little bit more pressure you'll see or give or anything like that?
COACH BLUDER: We only have 11 people on a roster so I can't see us with as much up tempo as we like to play, being able to do a lot of full court pressing. Kind of by emergency, by change of tempo, out of a time out, by surprise, but not as a part of our strategic defense we're going to do all the time. I just don't think you can do that with the numbers that we have on our team right now.
I think some teams will probably add a little bit more pressure, but truly, there's a lot of good ball handlers in this game that you don't see it being much of a factor. I don't know that it's going to be a huge factor for us.