Everything Lisa Bluder had to say after Iowa took down South Carolina in the Final Four

Iowa made history last night at the Final Four, toppling the NCAA Tournament’s overall No. 1 seed South Carolina, 77-73.

Caitlin Clark delivered her latest masterpiece performance to key the victory for the Hawkeyes. The superstar finished with a second consecutive 40-point tournament game.

There’s plenty of takeaways from the win over the Gamecocks. Namely, Iowa isn’t done yet and will play for the program’s first national championship tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. CT on ABC against the LSU Tigers.

Before the national championship arrives, here’s everything Iowa head women’s basketball coach Lisa Bluder had to say about the win over South Carolina.

Opening statement

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

“First off, I just want to say, South Carolina, unbelievable basketball team. I’m so proud of my women because I think they’re the only people that really believed. I don’t think anybody else, unless you were in black and gold, believed that we were going to win that game.

“So the women in that circle, they believed, and we prepared all week as if we were going to win this game.

“Before I turn it over to the women, I just want to put my condolences to everybody in Iowa City. We had some really bad tornadoes go through there this afternoon, a lot of damage. I don’t know if anybody’s hurt, but certainly we’re thinking about everybody back home.”

Spotting South Carolina's weakness

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Question: Lisa, could you talk about your offensive game plan. As Caitlin said, you obviously spotted some weaknesses as far as pick-and-roll and dragging their big players out away from the basket.

We really mostly ran our offense that we run every single game. But when we saw that we were able to score on some ball screens, we tried to emphasize that a little bit more.

With McKenna being a three-point shooter, we knew that Aliyah would have to come out and guard her out there. McKenna ended up making one of them, but I thought all of her shots were pretty good, and I would let McKenna shoot — she’s a 40 percent three-point shooter over her four-year career. So my money’s on her making those.

It was really just a lot of screening action and floor balance. I think we do a really good job of balancing the floor. So really — somebody really can’t help as much on you.

If Caitlin Clark's performance surprised her

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) celebrates a win over South Carolina during the NCAA Women’s Final Four semifinals basketball game in Dallas, Friday, March 31, 2023.

Question: Lisa, when the matchups are this hyped, this anticipated, they don’t often live up to it. Caitlin did and then some. Did she even surprise you tonight?

She doesn’t really surprise me anymore, but I was worried about her getting tired out there. She had to play a lot of minutes. I think she’s the most phenomenal basketball player in America. I just don’t think there’s anybody like her.

In so many regards, not only scoring, but passing the ball, handling the ball. She had the ball in her hands almost all the time tonight against some pretty good defensive players.

And then it’s her mentality. I think that’s what’s so special. She believes in herself. She believes in her teammates. She’s so confident, but she’s put the work in to deserve to have that confidence.

She said when we were recruiting her, I want to get to a Final Four, and it takes one person to believe it.

Trying to develop Clark's game in the post

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Question: Back in October you said on Locked On Women’s Basketball, you wanted to develop Caitlin’s game in the paint. How has that happened over the course of the season, and what clicked for her tonight in that regard?

That didn’t come out as planned. I really thought I’d be able to create some more post-up options for her and just try to develop her game that way. It didn’t go so well. She didn’t like being down there. Maybe she’s just more comfortable 30 feet away from the basket.

Sometimes it’s not good to try to stick a square peg into a round hole, instead of focusing on something that she wasn’t maybe always doing to keep doing what she was doing pretty well.

The moment that led to the championship game berth

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Question: Do you think there’s been a pivotal moment this season that helped you get to this championship game, maybe going back to February 21st against Maryland?

Somebody else asked me about that, and I think that was a huge point for us. We got embarrassed there. We came back and went to work.

I mean, Brenda did a great job of having a defense we hadn’t seen. Louisville tried it, and now we’re ready for it. So I thank her. If it wasn’t for that, we might not have been ready for that down the line.

You always learn more from losses, unfortunately. You really do. Wins feel better, but you learn a lot more from losses, and we learned a lot from that one. We came together even more after that loss, I think.

Starting fast, managing South Carolina's response

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Question: South Carolina this year had the tendency to have some lower-scoring quarters, but their defense enabled them to keep close in those quarters. What can you say about your ability to take advantage and get a nine-point lead in the first quarter? And then the second part, they’ve been able to have quarters where they outscore a team 25-10, 25-12. What were you guys able to do to make sure that didn’t happen? You kind of answered every single run they had.

I look at the score sheet. We led for almost 36 minutes of this game. We shot the ball very well to begin the first quarter. Second quarter, we took a little bit of a nose dive but then came back in the third and fourth quarters.

19 of our last 24 quarters, we have shot over 50 percent from the field. I think we’re the only team in America right now that shoots over 50 percent. And a lot of that, of course, is Caitlin. Her adjusted field goal percentage tonight is 56 percent.

But Monika Czinano, 75 percent shooting. Kate Martin, Addison O’Grady came in, who hasn’t played a lot of minutes for us. We needed her height tonight. She came in and did a great job for us.

That second quarter, we kind of took a little bit of a dive there. I wish Gabbie could have nailed that three going into the half, that would have been great momentum for us. But we still went in with a lead.

We talked about 20 more minutes of basketball to beat South Carolina, and you’ve got a memory for a lifetime. They did it.

They were feeling really good at halftime, and I thought we came out and shot the ball very well again. Couldn’t keep them off the glass. Cardoso’s just, she’s amazing. She’s just so big and keeps the ball high when she O-boards as well. She’s just really good.

Addison O'Grady's impact for Iowa

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Question: Addison O’Grady approach tonight, just take me through what you were expecting from her. Obviously you know you need to go big, and if you gave her any kind of specific instructions heading in to what turned out to be ten pivotal minutes for her?

She played really well. We needed her height, just like we did against Colorado, same thing. Addy hasn’t played as much this year as maybe we anticipated that she would, but, boy, she’s put in some valuable minutes in this tournament for us. We kind of told her, bring out your inner volleyball girl right now. She was a good high school volleyball player, and that’s what you’ve got to do out there to try to get those deflections off those rebounds.

Coaching against Dawn Staley

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Question: I just want to ask you, just you’re coaching against Coach Staley, a two-time national champion. What is it like coaching against her, especially game planning against Coach Staley?

It wasn’t any different than any other game as far as I really tried not to look down there a whole lot. I don’t try to look at interactions of coaches with officials and that sort of thing.

So to me, it was Iowa versus South Carolina. It was, you know, she’s a great coach obviously. She’s got unbelievable talent. She’s our Olympic coach. I have so much respect for her and her staff, which includes a former Iowa Hawkeye on her staff in Jolette Law.

And I guess that’s what makes this win even more special is because it was against somebody who’s had such a storied career.

Where this win ranks in her career

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Question: You’ve had such a legendary career, over 30 years of coaching. How does this game rank up there with some of the other ones you’ve experienced?

This has got to be number one, I don’t know. I’m hoping for another good one on Sunday. But any time you are beating the No. 1 team in the country who hasn’t lost all year long and they’re being coached by the Olympic coach, yeah, it’s a pretty good day. It’s a pretty good day.

If they saw this type of performance in Caitlin Clark as a recruit

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Question: So when you were recruiting Caitlin, what did you see in her that you thought was kind of special? Did you ever see games like this happening when she was in high school and you were trying to get her to come to Iowa?

Yeah, she had games that were pretty amazing. The three-point line is a lot closer in high school than it is now. But recruiting her, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out she was a pretty good basketball player. You could just watch her walk onto the court almost, and at a young age, know that she is something special.

It wasn’t any like found underneath a rock. I mean, this kid, everybody knew about her in the whole country. She represented USA Basketball. So recruiting her was difficult. It took a lot of hard work.

I’ll tell you, Jan Jensen, my associate head coach, worked harder than anybody to get her to come to Iowa. So I’m really proud of the relationship that we built with her from a young age. I think she always felt comfortable around us. Really had great conversations on the phone.

She’s a relationship kid, and that really meant a lot to her.

Iowa's philosophy now and going forward

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Question: Your shot chart tonight was pretty amazing with all the threes, layups, and free throws. How much of that would you say is really driven by the talent you have? Do you think as the program continues forward and the talent changes, you’ll be able to replicate that? How much of that is sort of your philosophy is going to endure going forward?

It’s absolutely our philosophy. We love shooting threes. It’s fun. Everybody gets excited about it.

So, yeah, we shoot open threes even in transition. Yeah, otherwise we know the best next shot is right around the rim. So that is definitely philosophy.

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