Iowa women NCAA Tournament first-round post-game press conference transcript
Lisa Bluder, Caitlin Clark, Monika Czinano talk about the 95-43 victory over Southeastern Louisiana
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The No. 2 seed Iowa women’s basketball team defeated Southeastern Louisiana 95-43 in an NCAA Tournament first-round game on Friday at sold out Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Here is the transcript from Iowa’s post-game press conference featuring head coach Lisa Bluder, junior guard Caitlin Clark and senior center Monika Czinano.
LISA BLUDER: Just coming out, it feels good to play again. You know we were so excited just to play because it had been awhile since the Big Ten Tournament. Happy with our performance the way we shot the ball today. You know defense, we held them to 11 points in the second half. The crowd was amazing. It’s a Friday afternoon. It’s a workday and we have 14,000-plus in here on a Friday afternoon, and we are going to need every one of them to come back on Sunday afternoon because we know that’s going to be a good challenge.
But really our bench came in and did well for us, too. We were able to rest our starters quite a bit which is really nice when you just have a one-day prep for the next game.
Q. You guys got off to a tremendous start. Caitlin made her first four shots, two free throws and all of a sudden you guys were running up and down. What did that feel like in this atmosphere?
CAITLIN CLARK: I thought it felt really good, to come out and start like that, it’s huge, especially when you have had time off not playing games. It’s different. We come to practice every day and scrimmage but it doesn’t quite give you that real game simulation. I thought it was really good. I thought it was good to see.
Honestly I thought they made some tough shots in the first half. We were contesting them. They made some tough twos, some tough threes, maybe a couple miscommunications by us. But I thought we cleaned up our defense a little there in the second half and, it was a lot better.
But I think especially the play where Molly got a fast break and one that was pretty tremendous, and I think that was the loudest I heard our crowd all day. They were screaming. Like Coach Bluder said, our crowd was incredible and we are so lucky that we get to play in that type of atmosphere.
Q. That turned into a 6-point possession with the two free throws. Can you tell us about that juncture?
CAITLIN CLARK: Honestly I guess I didn’t even know that rule with the intentional foul, and so you get two free throws and the ball rather than just the one free throw and the ball back. I guess I don’t know everything, like I sometimes like to think. But the ref explained it to me.
But that was a huge possession. Any time you go down the court and get six points, that’s basically unheard of. And I think Hannah played and incredible game: 5 for 5 from the field; 50 percent from the free throw line and five rebounds which is — when we have her playing like that and she can come off the bench, it just gives us a whole other weapon that people have to scheme for. I think Hannah played tremendous tonight.
Q. In the pre-run-up to this, southeast Louisiana had said that you had not seen a defense like them. You scored 95 against them in. What ways were they different than anything you faced? Was it as challenging as Maryland?
MONIKA CZINANO: Great question. I think we played a lot of really great defenses. That’s the great thing about being in the Big Ten Conferences is we have the opportunity to go and play against really good teams every night. They had a good game and a good defense. I’m just going to leave it at that.
CAITLIN CLARK: I also think that we’ve seen just about anything you can do in the game of basketball at this point. We’ve seen box in one, triangle in two, we’ve seen zone, we’ve seen everything. They were physical; they were. They were a scrappy team, picking up full court man-to-man, but I really don’t know what there is out there that you can do to us that we really haven’t seen.
But we are going to be ready for whatever people throw at us, and like, I mean, Georgia places another type of zone. I think our experience this whole season, I think we are just really ready for what anybody is going to give us.
Q. Can you talk about your defense? One of the things that their coach and players said was the zone, they couldn’t stop — they couldn’t handle it. Wonder if you can talk about that and the way that’s been effective at times for you guys this year?
CAITLIN CLARK: I think our player to player, it was okay but it wasn’t working as what we would have liked. Like I said earlier I think they made many tough shots, contested twos, and those are hard shots we want people to take on us but when we went to the zone defense, they seem to get no penetration. We were long, getting our arms out.
I thought we got some deflections. Gabbie has three steals, and she’s really active at the top of the zone for us. I think it puts people in a tough place, try to get the ball into the paint and then if you don’t have more than a couple three-point shooters on the three-point line, it puts your team in a tough spot for sure. We like to change up our defense quite a bit. It keeps people on their toes. You don’t really know what to do versus it. I like when we are playing good man-to-man and zone defense.
Q. I think 43 might be a season-low or close to it; 11 in the second half. What was working defensively with that zone?
MONIKA CZINANO: We were just moving really well, talking in it. It was nice to kind of give — the first quarter our defense wasn’t working very well so it was nice to finally get it to click going into that zone. It’s all about moving hard, talking, communicating well. That’s really all it is.
Once we kind of get to that level and we’re playing it consistently, it feels so nice so I’m glad we could get there today and kind of prepare it for future use.
Q. What did it mean to get everybody in the game?
CAITLIN CLARK: I love seeing my teammates succeed, and I think when we have opportunities to get everybody in the game, especially like when we did in the Big Ten Tournament championship it’s fun to see them.
I thought people off the bench played well. Addison O’Grady comes in, 3 for 3; and maybe at this times this year has not gotten the minutes she did last year or wanted to, but she’s kept working. She’s a good defender, too. She’s really long. She has five rebounds as well. I thought Molly played really well. Taylor comes in and makes a three.
So you know it’s just really fun seeing them, you know, have their moment as well. Us five starters, we get the bulk of the minutes but those kids still come to practice every single day and work super hard and you see the time they spend in the gym doing extra conditioning or extra lifting and it’s fun to see them get in and the crowd loves it, too. Our Hawkeye fans, they love supporting everybody, which is really fun.
Q. Scott mentioned in the comments that the southeastern Louisiana said ahead of time about their defense that you guys are not a big defensive team. Is that something that you use as motivation?
CAITLIN CLARK: Yeah, I think you can use anything as motivation. You know maybe our offense is better than our defense, but we still think we are a good defensive team. We know our starting group has been together for, what, three years now and maybe our first year we were not a great defensive team but we knew if we want to reach the final four this year we have to get better at defense.
We’ve spent a lot of time on it. We’ve really bought into getting better. We know that your defense can always be there. Maybe the offense won’t always be there but that is always something that you can fall back on and we will need to fall back on.
So you know we are a good defensive team. It’s just believing in that and we have a lot of different defenses we can run. So I think you can use anything as motivation.
Q. The southeastern Louisiana head coach said she thought it was a great game plan by you to switch to the zone in the second quarter. What did you see from your defense that made you want to switch that zone?
LISA BLUDER: Well, really, it was kind of like to preserve our legs a little bit. First of all it was working and second of all, why run around and chase screens if you don’t have to. You know, when you’re going to play again on Sunday, it’s kind of nice to be able to sit in a zone and maybe not have to play all those screens.
Q. The other day you mentioned a big key in the Big Ten Tournament is something that you wanted to carry into the NCAA Tournament was good ball movement and having the whole team engaged, and you look down, 27 assists on 36; how would you describe how the team shared the ball today?
LISA BLUDER: I thought we did a really good job of that. Any time you’re having 27 assists, that’s pretty good, and of course, a lot of them, we know Caitlin and Monika, but there were some other ones, too.
I thought we really picked up right where we left off, I really do. I don’t think we got any rust in us over the last two weeks. If anything, we got a little sharper.
Q. One element to Caitlin’s game that’s probably 15th on the list that people talk about maybe is her toughness, physical toughness. She seems to be bigger and more physical this year but to be able to sustain that blow to the face at the rim and hit two free throws, how has she been able to do that and walk up to the free throw line and do that, that says a lot about her, it seems?
LISA BLUDER: She did put on about eight pounds of muscle this summer. She knew she needed to in order to really keep competing and be able to absorb that contact and stay on her feet and finish at the rim. Because I could have had anybody shot those free throws, and I knew she would be madder than a pistol if I would have somebody else shoot those free throws other than her after she endured getting the smack to the face.
So I’m glad she was able to step up there and make them. You know, that was an unfortunate situation that happened.
Q. I don’t know how often you look at a player’s plus and minus, but Molly, plus 36, and for her to get her first NCAA Tournament win of her career, speak to how she played.
LISA BLUDER: Yeah, you know, we wouldn’t — we just value Molly so much, and you know, she flies under the radar a little bit. She’s kind of unassuming. But she really means a lot to our team. Everything from practice to being able to play the one or the two to coming in and giving us great minutes, and she’s just like, you know, like she requires no work.
She’s a person that does her job and she’s quiet and she just goes about her business and just doesn’t need a lot of attention and I’m just really glad that we have Molly Davis on our roster.
Q. What’s the deal about Taylor, when she makes a three, the whole bench goes nuts like she won the lottery. And it seems come that Hannah is starting to be a crowd favorite. She just worked so hard and does plays that we haven’t seen for a while?
LISA BLUDER: I agree with you. I think people appreciate her effort and they love to see young kids come out and do well, so Hannah definitely, I mean, I think she’s a crowd favorite because she’s fun to watch. I mean, the way she gets off the floor, the way she runs the floor, it’s beautiful. I think she is a crowd favorite.
Taylor, I mean, everybody on the team loves Taylor. She works so hard for her shots and we know how good of a shooter she is, so we get excited when she takes those shots. We believe in her and I’m glad she got one to fall tonight.
Q. You all had a total of 45 rebounds today. Monika had eight, McKenna had eight and Caitlin had 7 and Hannah had five but Georgia had 48 total rebounds including one player who had 13 individual rebounds. So I’m wondering, going into Sunday, how vital will rebounding be to your game plan?
LISA BLUDER: Absolutely. They have got some really good rebounders on the Georgia team, so we have got to make contact and box out because they are exceptional offensive rebounders. I think that’s one of their keys. Definitely rebounds are going to be a factor in the next game.
Q. If you could, reflect back on your time as a student athlete at UNI and what it’s like to see 14,000 people here to support women’s athletics when you started out the infancy of Title IX?
LISA BLUDER: You’re testing my memory a little bit but we played in the Dome — I don’t know how many the Dome seats but we’d have maybe 200 people there if we were lucky. It was like back page news, you know, our game, if you could have it there even.
So to see where it’s come, it’s just so rewarding. It’s really indescribable how far it’s come because it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. I know my players would say, “Oh my gosh, ’70s? Are you kidding, coach?”
It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long but it’s grown by leaps and bounds. Now when you have a player like Caitlin that’s so exciting, and a team that plays the style that we do and to be able to sell this arena out in an hour, you know, that’s really, when we came here, we had dreamed about that. You never know if it’s going to happen, and now it’s happened.
So I love my days back at UNI but to play in front of this crowd, I love it.
Q. I wanted to ask about Gabbie Marshall, she hit the first three-pointer of the game but more than that, she seemed to be very, very active on the defensive end, had her hand up, was really fronting the guards. What’s her impact on the defensive end, and when she provides that kind of lift offensively, what does she do for your typically?
LISA BLUDER: I think everybody was thrilled to see that first three go in again because it’s like, okay, let’s just keep going from where we were at the Big Ten Tournament with her shooting.
But defensively, she has always worked so hard defensively. She has always denied really well, ball pressure really well and it’s something that we real will he count on and we always tell her to focus on that rather than — rather than the offense. You know, I mean, because what she brings for us in the defensive end is so important.
Q. Caitlin referenced with Addison O’Grady being somebody who might not play as many minutes as she would like and across the whole team you have starters that may a lot of minutes. What is the challenge of getting the entire team to stay engaged and how rewarding is it that everybody gets to play and so he success?
LISA BLUDER: When everybody gets to play in the NCAA Tournament, that’s good. You just want to give your kids that opportunity. But you know, we really try to make everybody feel valued in our program. We always say, we don’t care if you’re the leading scorer or the person last off the bench, everybody is important.
When you walk into our locker room, it’s one of our values, and what you see printed on the wall and what they see every single day they come to practice. We start and we end every practice in a circle, because touching toe-to-toe, there’s nobody more important that be anybody else in that circle. We really talk and work on it a lot; that everybody is valued in our program. I love when our bench goes in and scores 33 points and has that opportunity.
Q. You mentioned that you guys felt you have not lost a step since the Big Ten Tournament. How reassuring is it to rest and then come in and take care of business?
LISA BLUDER: I think sometimes you can be sitting out for a couple weeks and you can feel like a little bit rusty, but we scrimmaged our practice squad with officials one day to try to keep them in that game plan mentality.
But also, I think we really needed the time because it’s just when you win the tournament, you’re on such a high and it takes awhile to come down from that. So we really needed the break in order to get our feet on the ground and focus on the next step ahead.