Iowa reached its first Final Four since its lone berth in 1993 Sunday with a 97-83 victory against Louisville Sunday night in Seattle. Following the game, Lisa Bluder and the Hawkeyes spoke with the media about achieving a goal.
See what they had to say had to say in this HF TV video and transcript:
LISA BLUDER: Yeah, I’m just pretty thankful right now. I don’t know if it’s kind of really sunk in yet. But this group is amazing and just to do the thing you love with the people that you love it doesn’t get any better than that. That’s exactly how this team is. I mean, everybody talks about being a family. This is a true family. We have each other’s backs through highs and lows and we’re just very thankful that we get to represent the great state of Iowa in the Final Four.
THE MODERATOR: Questions?
Q. I don’t know if you know this, but today was your 90th time for all five of you to start together in a row. Just for the five of you to have played together so much and for your 90th time to win the Elite 8 and go to the Final Four, just how much does that mean to you three for this group of five has been together so long?
MONIKA CZINANO: Wow, that’s a lot of games. It means a lot, especially for all five of us. We’ve been working on our games collectively as a starting five for so long, working on our relationships with each other, just everything. But even more so off the court, I’m so thankful for every single person, not just the starting five. Everybody on our team deserves this. Everybody puts in the work. So there’s no other group I would rather go 90 games with, truly.
Q. You’ve always talked about since your freshman year you want to bring this team to the Final Four. What’s it mean to do that?
CAITLIN CLARK: I think like Coach said, it really hasn’t sunk in yet, probably won’t for awhile. But I mean, about the only people that believed were me and her when I first committed to her and it was getting the locker room to believe and then everybody in the locker room believed and the rest is kind of history.
But a lot of people told me it would never happen when I came to the University of Iowa. But she believed in me and that was really all that mattered. And we made our locker room believe and when you dream and work really hard, a lot of really cool things can happen.
Q. We saw the video of Sue Bird surprising you all at practice today and we heard on the broadcast that she was talking about how this is the most difficult game of the tournament to win. So was there anything about that message or anything else that she said that — what stuck with you the most? And if anyone else wants to jump in too, please do.
CAITLIN CLARK: Yeah, I think what she kind of preached is like things are going to be hard in this game. There’s always hard moments. Not everything’s going to go your way. And we started the game with a really hard moment. We were down 8-0, but were lucky enough that we have a group that is old enough to understand it’s not going to bother us. We came out and changed our defense and really from there I thought we played really, really good basketball.
We responded really well. A lot of teams could be really bothered by that, but all we did was respond and kind of chipped back into it and built our own lead. But all we kept thinking was next play, and that’s what Sue said in our circle today, is you just got to move on to the next play. So I think that just speaks to the toughness of our team.
Q. You mentioned how you guys went down 8-0 early in the game. What was kind of the message in that timeout? And what kind of changed after that to get into a rhythm and get things going?
McKENNA WARNOCK: I just think we are such a veteran team that everyone just kind of knew we had to stay true to ourselves and just be ourselves in that moment. You could falter. I mean, that could have blown up a lot worse than it did. And I’m really proud of this group and we really just focused on our defense one step at a time and we knew that our defense leads to our offense. And I think Caitlin got a big steal there, and there was a couple other big defensive plays, and I think that’s why we ended up coming right back in.
Q. Tell me about the emotion of the day with Jan’s dad and all that and how you guys probably rallied around each other, probably rallied around her?
MONIKA CZINANO: Yeah, she just is the epitome of an amazing person, amazing coach, so to see her go through that, it’s obviously super tough, especially in one of the highs of all of our lives. But her dad’s dream was to see us do this, and so we knew we had to see it through for that, and I believe he was there with us every step of the way. So definitely an emotional day all things considered, but I’m sure everybody is happy with the basketball outcome.
Q. Caitlin, every time you ask the crowd to get louder, they always answer, they always do what you ask. What’s it like kind of having a whole arena wrapped around your finger like that?
CAITLIN CLARK: You feel kind of powerful. It’s kind of cool. (Laughing.) But no, I think, first of all, you have to have fans that are here supporting you, and that’s the first thing. I thought our fans were incredible. Whether from out here West or you’re traveling from the Midwest or the state of Iowa, I just thank you for coming and we need you in Dallas. The job’s not finished.
But I mean, when we go on run like that and get stops and the energy in the crowd is pretty incredible. So I don’t think people realize how much that affects us on the court. It really is huge for us when we can play into that. But there was a lot of little kids out there screaming and cheering for us, which I think is the coolest thing.
Q. When you guys think about how last season ended, what makes you a better team now than you were a year ago in March?
McKENNA WARNOCK: Yeah, I honestly just think that it’s our confidence in each other. I think we’ve had those experiences. Like someone said, it’s been 90 games that we’ve all started together and just our ability to be able to know every move that the other person is going to do. I just think our ability to just respond in all those different situations. Since we had those experiences, I think that that really lead us up for success this year and when you don’t have those experiences, you can’t learn. So we were able to learn in so many different facets, especially throughout the Big Ten season.
Q. What happened there in the third quarter? That seemed to be when you took control of the game.
MONIKA CZINANO: I just really think we locked down on our defensive possessions. We always talk about our defense leading into our offense, and it really felt like it was flowing right there, and it honestly just really felt like we finally really clicked playing Iowa basketball like we knew we could. It just really felt like everything was flowing and that’s the point of a game that you’re always trying to get to. Granted basketball is a game of runs and that was our biggest one, but just the confidence that we felt in that moment was huge and it definitely helped us down the rest of the game.
CAITLIN CLARK: I also think, I mean, they come out in a box and one to start the third quarter, a defense we haven’t seen in a couple games and nobody is flustered. Gabbie steps up after missing I think four threes in the first half, three of which rimmed in and out and went off the backboard. So I think that speaks to Gabbie’s confidence. She makes ’em — two huge threes for us, and then I make a three, and he has to use a timeout, and it’s really like what do you do from there because it felt like that was their last resort defensively.
So we’re never flustered by stuff they throw at us and I think that’s the difference.
Q. I’d love to hear — Coach said before the game to focus on just being you, not focus on all the expectations. What does it mean to just be you? What does it mean to be a member of Iowa women’s basketball team?
McKENNA WARNOCK: I think it’s just pouring into your teammates and loving each other and doing it for each other. No one is greater to the left or to the right of you and just knowing that we are a team and that everyone matters no matter their role. I think that we just really bought into that, especially this year. Anyone who doesn’t play, anyone who plays, has bought into it so much. And I honestly think it speaks true character to Coach Bluder as well too for allowing and getting those girls to all be on a team. She recruits amazing players, but even better people.
Q. The question about having the crowd wrapped around your finger, you obviously play with a lot of swagger, but you have a lot of joy in your game too. I wondered if you could talk about that. How much does the crowd play a role in that and why is that important to you?
CAITLIN CLARK: Yeah, I think that’s when I’m playing my best basketball is when I’m playing — when I’m having the most fun out of anybody on court. I love to play this game. I’ve dreamed of this moment since I was a little girl. I’ve always wanted to take a team to the Final Four and be in these moments and have confetti fall down on me.
But I play this game because I love it, and it brings joy to me, and it bring as lot of joy to other people because our team is so fun to watch. I don’t play it to hoist a trophy, whether it’s individually or with my team. That just comes with the joy and the passion that we play for and how much fun we have with one another. So, yeah, I think it’s just who I am. At the end of the day is — I’m a fun person off the court too. Maybe a little too goofy at times. But, you know, I think that’s, you know, what makes basketball so fun for me.
Q. Saw you made a beeline to go get the game ball after the game ended. Were you in kind of the moment able to understand the historical significance of a 40-point triple double in the Elite 8?
CAITLIN CLARK: Not really, probably. But I did want the game ball, so I chucked it to my dad. I hope the NCAA — I hope they got out of the arena in time, so the NCAA can’t chase ’em down. But I told ’em to run. I’ll get it later at the hotel. (Laughing.)
But, no, I mean, I just thought I played a pretty balanced game. I mean, 12 assists, that’s my teammates making shots right there. McKenna was huge in the first half. They were kind of helping off of her, doubling on to me, and she made some big shots for us. And then I thought Gabbie was tremendous in the second half, and then Mon came up big too for us. So a total team effort. And I pride myself in doing a lot of different things for this team. This is probably the biggest game I played in, but I honestly felt it was one of the most calmness I’ve ever felt before a basketball game in my life. I believed and I visualized to be in this press conference with a hat and a shirt around me. So here we are.
THE MODERATOR: All right. We’ll excuse the student-athletes and take questions for coach.
Q. Could you think of a better script than an Iowa kid having one of the greatest performances in the history of the NCAA tournament to get you guys there?
LISA BLUDER: It is like a storybook, but it’s kind of been like that for us all year long. I mean, we have had — honestly, we keep talking about destiny and how it’s supposed to happen and it is happening. But I’m so happy for Caitlin. I can remember sitting in her living room and her saying, I want to go to a Final Four. And I’m saying, We can do it together. And she believed me. And so I’m very thankful for that. She is spectacular. I don’t know how else to describe what she does on the basketball court. A 40-point triple double against Louisville to go to the Final Four? Are you kidding? I mean, it’s mind-boggling.
So I’m just thankful for her. And I look at the stat sheet and I think, gosh, Monika only had four points. That’s — is that right? No, I’m sorry, she only had two baskets. She had nine points, but only two baskets. I don’t know that I could have thought of coming in and winning this game and Monika only having two baskets. I really don’t. But it’s because of Caitlin and what she did out there.
Q. We’ve been looking through the record books. We think it’s the most points anyone’s ever scored in triple double, men’s or women’s, throughout the NCAA tournament. Just FYI. So next summer ESPN is going to renegotiate its package and try to sell the women’s game probably separately. How important is it that we have a player like Caitlin who is just going to draw eyeballs and bring more fans to the game because of not just the way she plays and her crazy passes and pulling up from the logo, but like she said, she plays with a lot of joy.
LISA BLUDER: Yeah, I mean, that is who she is. She loves this game so much. Yeah, I mean, with the new deal that’s coming up next year I think we need to have a lot of faces in women’s basketball. And you got another one in Hailey tonight. She’s tremendous. On and on. There’s just a lot of great players in our game right now.
We need to have the television coverage and we need to have the money in women’s basketball that it can provide. We’ve been shortchanging ourselves for years and years. But certainly when you have a product like this that, you know, a game like this it helps make it really seem like, yeah, this is a no-brainer.
Q. We got the players’ take on what how it felt to them to have that 90 games started with that core group of five players, but would I love to hear your thoughts on what it has meant to you and the program and how that’s strengthened you being able to have that core group together for such a long span of time?
LISA BLUDER: Yeah, I mean, experience is a great teacher. They have just had that and they have been able to develop bonds over that time. They have learned lessons from different situations. When Monika said she was going to come back for a fifth year we really believed that we could do something great with this team that was coming back. So that was a huge portion of this. I mean, if Monika wouldn’t have come back it would have been really, really, really hard to do. And Caitlin knows that. And so we’re very thankful that she chose to come back for a fifth year. But, yeah, these guys, I means, you know, you could get sick of each other after that many games, right? They honestly love each other.
Q. You guys really took control in the third quarter. Kind of a two-part question. First off, what started working on the offensive side to really get the ball rolling, 30 points in the third quarter. And then on the defensive end just talk about the way that Gabbie Marshall played in the second half to hold Hailey Van Lith to 2-9 shooting?
LISA BLUDER: Yeah, I mean Hailey and Chrislyn were the two that were hurting us in the first half. And so we had to do something. And I thought we did. Gabbie Marshall did just a great job of hounding Hailey all over. Then Chrislyn doesn’t have a three the rest of the game. So defensively we really locked in at halftime. And, you know, I thought we did a good job of rebounding the ball. This is a good rebounding team in Louisville and we did a great job rebounding against them. And we were in the first half as well.
So, our defense, they came out in a box and one and, man, they just, the kids just remembered exactly what to do against that box and one and it was perfect. I mean, you know, Gabbie caught fire there. McKenna had some beautiful threes in the first half. But Kate Martin had one. We have always believed we have a lot of great shooters and you really can’t do that junk against us because of that. So I think we proved that again tonight.
Q. Caitlin obviously mentioned you and her had to convince the team that you can make it to a Final Four. When did that kind of start changing? Was it when Monika came back for that fifth year?
LISA BLUDER: You know, I really think it started at the beginning of, or the ending of Caitlin’s freshman year when we beat Kentucky to go into the Sweet 16 during COVID in the bubble. That bubble really brought us together. I mean, you’re living in a hotel in a bubble for two weeks together. And that actually really I think brought us together even more.
But then last year was such a disappointment to us because I think we really could have done some special things last year. But just being able to rewind and do it again this year, it’s amazing. It’s just really special.
Q. You talked about what a special individual performance this was by Caitlin. Are there some performances in the past from your experience around the game that kind of compare or that you would put up with this?
LISA BLUDER: You know, I’m not very good with my memory on those type of things. You know, she’s had triple doubles, right. Is this her sixth this year? Sixth this year. So it’s happened before. And it’s funny, because the better the opponent, almost the better she plays. It’s like she locks in on those, when we’re playing against top-25 teams and that’s when she really, her statistics even go up even more, against great opponents. And maybe it’s because she’s playing more, too. I mean, it’s a possibility. But I just think she’s the most complete player. I mean, 12 assists — she’s going to be very mad at her turnovers. She’s going to be very mad about that. Rebounding, defensive rebounds, gets the ball into her hands for transition opportunities. I think somebody asked me about the third quarter too, it just, yeah, I’m done. Sorry.
Q. McKenna was talking about how everyone on this team knows their role and embraces it. We all sit here obviously and ask you the most about Caitlin. The fans are responding to her, she’s getting all the attention but how special is it to have a group that just doesn’t care about that and is just going to do their jobs?
LISA BLUDER: I think it’s because Caitlin is the hardest worker. Everybody knows this means so much to her. And it doesn’t, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t mean a lot to all of ’em, but they all know that. And it takes one person to dream it, right. And if you can get other people to follow in line, and that’s what this team has done is — but Caitlin was the one, she was the one that said, we’re going to the Final Four. And she kept saying it in the paper. And I kept saying, I was thinking, quit doing that, man. You know, so — I learned a long time ago not to always give your goals away to people. Because they can, there’s a lot of people that want to tear ’em down. She wasn’t afraid of that goal. She wasn’t afraid of putting it out there. And not only in her circle but out to anybody.
But I think this team — one of our values is everyone matters. And it’s one thing to have it written on the wall when you walk into our locker room. It’s another thing to live it. And we live it every day. Everyone is so important on our team. And I’m talking about every assistant coach, every support person, every practice player. They are all valued. And I think when you see the joy that these kids have, like the managers and stuff, like you understand — they’re vested and that’s because we are vested in them.
Q. Caitlin mentioned that she just felt really calm before the game and I was curious if there was anything that you picked up going into it about how she was dealing with the moment, but then also once the game started was there a particular play or moment where you realized this was going to be one of those games for her where she was just going to take over?
LISA BLUDER: You know, I can’t imagine the pressure she’s under. I think kids have more pressure now with NIL opportunities, right, because they have this brand and they got to live up to all these expectations, these extra expectations that they didn’t have three, four years ago. So, for her, she’s really done a great job I think of just really calming herself before every game and taking the same approach every game. We didn’t talk about Final Four a lot. We talked about playing 40 minutes. Like every other game. And we went about today like every other game. We didn’t do anything different or special. So I think having that routine is good for her.
You know, when did I know she was going to have this kind of game? I think in that, the second quarter seemed pretty spectacular to me. I thought the first quarter she took a couple rushed ones. But, you know, how can you argue with that when she has 41? Pretty hard to argue with it.
Q. There’s lots of great players who have never made it to a Final Four. You coached one a few years ago in Megan. So I wondered how satisfying this is for you that you helped her get there.
LISA BLUDER: It’s incredibly satisfying. I know Megan set her alarm over in Athens, Greece where she’s playing right now to watch this game. She’s texting us this morning. She’s so happy. I mean we had players out here that were from when we recruited and coached 20 years ago. I mean, it’s so, so special. But, yeah, I mean, it feels great. And every Hawkeye that’s been since then, you know, every Hawkeye for the last 30 years that has wanted to get back to that Final Four, they’re a part of this. They really are and I want ’em to know they’re a part of it.