116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / Sports / Iowa Hawkeyes / Iowa Basketball
Why not us, Iowa women ask about winning the NCAA title. Well, why not?
Lisa Bluder has gone from driving a team van at St. Ambrose to piloting Iowa to Sunday’s national-championship game, with her feet on the ground the whole time
DALLAS — In 1991, Duke scored one of the biggest upsets in men’s basketball Final Four history when it beat defending champion and 34-0 UNLV in the semifinals.
That shocker wouldn’t have been forgotten no matter what, but it has added prestige because Duke didn’t settle for just being in the title game two nights later. It downed Kansas for the championship and its players had title rings to show off every time someone warmly reminded them of the UNLV game over last 32 years.
That is what the Iowa women’s basketball team has before it here Sunday afternoon. Friday night, the underdog Hawkeyes toppled defending champion and 36-0 South Carolina in the NCAA’s national semifinals, a game that was riveting to its national audience.
But can the Hawkeyes get those rings against a 33-2 LSU club that also has the stuff of champions? Can they quickly bounce back after winning what felt like the title game to so many?
“People have asked me, ‘How are you going to get them ready to play this game after last night?’” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said Saturday. “It really isn't hard.
“We've taken a businesslike 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. We turn the next page.
“It's a veteran group, and they can handle it.”
Human nature being what it is, you might expect a team to find it tough to return to terra firma for a Sunday afternoon game after such a momentous triumph Friday night. Bluder said you need not fret about that.
A team mantra is “Why not us?” It isn’t original, but it works.
“I just said it one day,” Bluder said. “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.
“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?”
Bluder has held that ladder to steady her players as they’ve made Iowa’s first trip to the top rung of the NCAA women’s tourney. Her team’s defense has been dismissed, but it defended like champs against South Carolina.
The Hawkeye offense looks state-of-the-art to most, but it’s not much different from the way Bluder has always coached it. The team zipped the ball around, had a good inside-outside balance, and loved to jump out in transition well before Caitlin Clark became a Hawkeye.
“But when you get some super talent,” Bluder said, “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.”
Pretty ordinary, Bluder is not. She may feel that way simply because she didn’t grow up on any pedestals. She played at Linn-Mar High and Northern Iowa. She coached for six years at St. Ambrose University and 10 at Drake before starting her 23-year run at Iowa.
“When I played at UNI, we might have had 200 people in the stands if you count my husband twice,” Bluder said.
“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.”
The first 11 Hawkeye teams Bluder took to NCAA tourneys didn’t get past the second round. Bluder gradually got better ladders. Iowa went to a Sweet 16 in 2015, an Elite Eight in 2019 with National Player of the Year Megan Gustafson, and another Sweet 16 in 2021.
Last season ended with a crushing second-round upset home loss to Creighton. Rather than wallow in it, she and her players used it as fuel.
“Honestly, we believed,” she said. “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.
“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.”
⧉ Related article: Iowa women are playing elite basketball. April basketball. Championship basketball?
You don’t have any trouble keeping your feet on the ground if you once drove your team’s van to road games, as Bluder did at St. Ambrose.
“I had to recruit my husband to drive the other one sometimes,” she said. “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.”
No one has been left behind lately. In fact, the number of people who will ride along with Bluder today is roughly the population of Iowa plus a lot of new Hawkeye fans around the nation.
If Iowa doesn’t win a national championship against a terrific foe today, it won’t be because it got so close to its dream and then quit. It has the right person driving the van Sunday.
Comments: (319) 398-8440; firstname.lastname@example.org