April 21, 2014
Editor's Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa's Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa women's basketball team had fun in 2013-14.
The campaign featured 27 wins, equaling the second-highest total in program history, and 14 home wins, also equaling the second-most in school history.
Iowa was 1-of-14 teams nationally -- the only Big Ten team -- to make its seventh-straight NCAA Tournament appearance this season, and 1-of-21 teams to advance to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons.
Winning helps, but this team truly had fun, day-in and day-out.
"Fun," said UI head coach Lisa Bluder when asked to describe the 2013-14 UI team in one word. "This team had fun together and enjoyed being around each other. Winning is always fun, but that's not the main reason that this team was fun to be around. They were fun to be around because they enjoyed each other. They enjoyed coming to practice, believed in each other, and that's what made the season fun."
To understand this group, you simply had to watch them play. Iowa ranked 10th nationally in assists per game and 19th in assist/turnover ratio; there are 343 Division I teams. The Hawkeyes were one of a few teams in the country to have five players average in double figures. Iowa also ranked 11th nationally in field goal percentage, and 22nd in scoring offense.
"Cohesiveness is another adjective I would use to describe this team," said Bluder. "When you're ranked that high in assists... that is impossible to do unless you believe in each other. If you're selfish you don't do those things. It was a very cohesive group that was unselfish that believed in team work, and because they bought into all of those things, that is why we won."
Entering the season, Iowa had to replace two long-time starters, and outsider expectations were not as high as they were on the inside of the program.
For Bluder, this year ranked as one of the best during her 14 years at the helm of the UI program.
"This year has to be one of the top ones because of the satisfaction knowing people didn't expect it," said Bluder. "When people expect you to be good sometimes that comes with pressure. I don't think people had high expectations for our team.
"We certainly weren't ranked in the top three (in the Big Ten preseason poll). Although personally, our team always felt we should have been in the preseason polls. People on the outside always thought, 'How are they going to make up for the loss of Morgan (Johnson) and Jaime (Printy)? They don't have much depth. They don't have much height.'
We never looked at ourselves that way. Our team always believed in ourselves. It is satisfying doing something people don't think you're going to do, and nobody would have picked our team to finish in the top-20 in the polls this year."
Iowa ended the year ranked 19th in the Associated Press Poll, and Bluder and the Hawkeyes are already eager for 2014-15.
"After a season is over I usually need to get away from basketball for a little while, but I didn't feel that way this year," said Bluder. "We are energized and excited for next year. I want to start practice right away and I wish those freshmen were here so that this team can see the potential of what we can accomplish. I think our fans can feel it coming."
The program is in a great place.
"Since I've been here, I feel like this is the best our program has ever been," said Bluder, the all-time winningest coach in program history. "When coach (C. Vivian) Stringer was here the program was unbelievable, but since I've been here, this is the strongest our program has been because of who we have returning, who we have coming in.
"Everything is in place... the facilities, our administration supports us, and the Big Ten Network has helped get the word out about Iowa basketball. It has helped us tell our story to everybody. People can see what we have and they want to be a part of it now."