Nov. 13, 2012
Lisa Bluder: Not very often do you get to be in a tournament atmosphere to start your season. I can feel just the excitement of our players being able to play in a tournament of this quality. You have four teams remaining here that are all very, very good teams.
Of course we're playing Middle Tennessee. I've seen them ranked as high as 15th in the country this year. They were in the NCAA Tournament last year and only lost one player from that team that was in the NCAA Tournament. And then on the other side of the bracket you have North Carolina and Georgetown. So again, two quality women's basketball programs. So this final four is very, very good.
We're very happy to be hosting on Wednesday night, and I just hope we get a great crowd out here to support us because I know it is an additional charge for that ticket to get in. It's not a part of the season ticket package. But hopefully we'll have a great crowd because this is really a tournament atmosphere with the four teams that are remaining.
Q. How do you match up with Middle Tennessee?
Lisa Bluder: We're taller than they are but they're more athletic than we are. They're extremely quick, great jumpers. They're outscoring their first two opponents by 30 points, so they are a very quality team, as we knew. There's a lot of experience coming back. They're used to winning. So this is, again, a quality opponent like this, to be able to play them on your home court this early in the year I think is very unusual, and we want to make the most of it.
Q. Will they run a lot?
Lisa Bluder: They'll try to push it and they'll try to press, as well.
Q. What does it mean to have this caliber of opponent the third game of the season, to have an NCAA ready team like this this early?
Lisa Bluder: I think that's the beauty of this. We get to play a top team this early in the year. Usually you don't get to do that until maybe the Big Ten season, you're playing a top 25 team on your home court. It doesn't always happen, and we want to take full advantage of being able to host a team like this.
Q. You've got two seniors coming off the bench and a couple of freshmen and Kathy. Pretty good rotation for you so far?
Lisa Bluder: We do have we've shown that we have more depth this year than we've had in the past. It gives us a lot of flexibility as a coaching staff but also just gives, I think, the players some more confidence that they can go as hard as they can go the minutes they're in because now they know they're not going to play as many minutes as they have in the past. I think that's a wonderful thing. You don't have to worry about that foul or picking up a ticky tack foul; you can just play your heart out there while you're out there and not worry about some of those issues.
Q. You guys have had pretty good defense the first two games. Are you guys going to be able to do that against a team like Middle Tennessee?
Lisa Bluder: We will definitely mix it up. I think you have to keep a team off guard a little bit and try different things, and so we'll be mixing up our defenses.
Q. Is there a specific game plan to counter Elie, Rowe and Jones?
Lisa Bluder: Well, a specific game plan to counter them. If I had one, I wouldn't tell you, for one thing. But no, they're three quality players, obviously. Kortni Jones is so good because she can shoot the three, she's got great size. And then Elie is a power forward position that shoots the three extremely well. We haven't had an inside player yet this year that can shoot the ball as well as she can from the perimeter. We haven't had to really face a 4 or a 5 that can shoot the three, so this will be our first time, but she's as agile as any wing player even though she's playing the power forward. Those are definitely two key players that we're definitely going to have to watch out for. But also their center is putting up great numbers, as well.
Q. Does it help at all that it is kind of a front court matchup, kind of one of your strengths because you have Bethany and Morgan?
Lisa Bluder: And we need to take advantage of that on the offensive side of things. We really need to try to get the ball inside against our height. We do have a height advantage. So that's something that we need to really try to focus on, I think, offensively.
Q. Can you evaluate a little bit the new ones, like Kali and Kathy and Kayla and Claire and how have they come along and what are the things you like about them and what are some things they have to work on a little bit?
Lisa Bluder: Let's see. I think all have been pretty much in the rotation of things, which is good, but none of them have had to step up and be the shining star freshman like we've had in past years. And I think that bodes well for our program because you ideally don't want to have that type of situation happen. But we've been forced into that hand several times over the last few years, and fortunately our freshmen have stepped up and done a really great job in those situations. But this year it's not like that necessarily where we have to have somebody in the starting lineup or playing significant amount of minutes as a freshman.
I think Claire has really come along. She missed the summer, and she had a little bit of a slower start to the fall. But now I feel like she's getting more and more repetitions in practice. She's becoming more confident out there. She's really getting a better understanding for our offense. I think she rebounds well. She blocks shots well. She can guard a 4 down there, somebody that's a little bit stronger, so I think that's good.
Kayla Timmerman has also shown some really good strides, good improvement playing the 5 position. Earlier in the year we were trying to decide between the 4 and the 5 for her, and then we kind of put her at the 5, and now I think she's embraced that and is getting better and feeling much more confident playing the 5 for us, too. So I think her minutes will definitely keep increasing as the year goes on.
And I think Kathy has shown great signs, as well. She's a little bit more sporadic. We need to get her more consistent, but when she comes off the bench, she can really add a spark because here's this burst of speed. She kind of plays with a little chip on her shoulder. I like that. I like that attitude coming in, and so I think she just adds a different dimension coming in off the bench for us.
Q. And is Kali coming along?
Lisa Bluder: Yeah, she just hasn't had the shots fall for her yet, but they will. I have confidence in her, and I know that they will. But we just haven't been able to see it in a game setting yet.
Q. Middle Tennessee State sounds like a directional school you bring in. What do you do to convince have you shown your team a tape or convinced them how dangerous they are?
Lisa Bluder: We definitely have shown them highlight films, so they've seen that the last two days. They've seen their statistics. We've told them that they were an NCAA qualifying team the last several years, and yeah, sometimes people, and especially fans, I think, get deceived by a name. But don't be deceived because this is a team that is very, very good. Rick has done a great job. He was a fabulous high school coach, and I think this is his eighth year at Middle Tennessee. He's developed a wonderful program there that is very well respected around the country.
Q. Could you take anything away from their game against Penn State last year considering they're mostly the same team?
Lisa Bluder: Did not even look at it. Haven't looked at it, no. I just focused on the last two games that they've played this year.
Q. The turnovers against Illinois State, how concerned are you going forward with Middle Tennessee who causes a lot of turnovers?
Lisa Bluder: They do cause a lot of turnovers, and a lot of the turnovers that they caused were in their press, and I thought we handled the press very well against Illinois State. Where we had some problems is trying to rush things in the quarter court and had too many really unforced turnovers in the quarter court. We can't have those unforced turnovers against any good team and expect to win, so we're going to have to take care of the ball. But I think we did we have confidence with the press after the Illinois State game because we broke it very well.
Q. Does it help that you prepared for the press against Illinois State?
Lisa Bluder: Absolutely. We spent time working up for that, and yes, I think it's good that we have faced a team that has pressed already.
Q. How deep will Tennessee go? Will they go eight, nine deep?
Lisa Bluder: Not really. About eight deep is what we're seeing. And the starting five play a lot of minutes. They don't go to their bench a whole lot. I've even I would even say maybe even seven. They really don't want to sub a whole lot.
Q. Do you know what their travel plans are? Are they already here?
Lisa Bluder: I don't have any idea.
Q. Is that something you kind of try and take advantage of, too, maybe get them in foul trouble like Illinois State since they only play seven girls?
Lisa Bluder: I think that's to anybody's advantage is to get when they don't play a lot is to get to their bench if you can, but that's a hard game plan to think how are we going to sometimes those things happen within the course of a game and you don't have control over them, and so you just take advantage of it then.
Q. Are Melissa and Theairra playing with as good a confidence as they've played?
Lisa Bluder: I think they're both feeling very good about their game right now. I think both of them are coming off good games. Melissa is coming off two very good shooting performances, and she's not pushing shots, she's taking great shots and shooting an excellent percentage for us, and I think she's taking a lot of pride in her defense, as well.
Theairra, that was a tremendous rebounding performance by her in the last game with 11 rebounds, and Theairra can run the floor. That fast break from Sam to Theairra, that was fun, and she can get out and run, and I think she's feeling good about herself. I hope she is because I feel like she should be.