Video & Transcript: Hawkeyes Preparing for Tough Mercer Squad

March 21, 2019

Written by Rob Howe

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Second-seeded Iowa met with the media Thursday morning at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes were preparing for Friday’s NCAA Tournament game against No. 15 Mercer.

Find out what Iowa coach Lisa Bluder, and seniors Megan Gustafson, Tania Davis and Hannah Stewart had to say in this video and transcript:

LISA BLUDER: It’s really nice to be at home. We’re thrilled to be here in Iowa City at the University of Iowa in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. We think it’s going to be a great atmosphere for everybody involved. We certainly want to welcome our three competitors to Carver, but we’re excited about the opportunity to play Mercer. We know they’re a very good basketball team. I mean, I didn’t know a lot about them on Monday night, but I know a lot more now.

I’m very impressed with the — they’re very similar to us in that they’re a very senior-dominated team. They have five seniors on the team, four in the starting lineup. They’ve been on 17 straight wins. Went undefeated in their conference play, and it was pretty easy to get my players’ attention when we note that they only lost to Florida State by one point, where we lost to Florida State by four points. So this is a very good team that last year really competed well in the NCAA Tournament, so they’re no stranger to the tournament, and Susie has done a great job with Mercer’s program.

Q. Tania, can you just talk about being here in the tournament after your season ending prematurely the previous two years and all the hard work and dedication it took to be at the podium right now?
TANIA DAVIS: Yeah, well, obviously this is my first NCAA Tournament as an athlete, as playing. So I’m definitely excited just to be here with my fellow seniors and the rest of my teammates. We’ve worked so hard from last year up until this point. So I’ve worked hard from last year up until this point just rehabbing and getting myself back right mentally and physically, and just visualizing this day and holding up that trophy in the end.

This moment right now is definitely special to me, and sharing it with some of my best friends has been amazing.

Q. Hannah, you and Megan have really developed that 12-foot shot. Coach said you were shooting like 70 percent in practice. Have you guys ever played H-O-R-S-E against each other? You’ve got it down.
HANNAH STEWART: Yeah, that’s a shot we practice a lot, not only in practice but outside of practice. We know that’s a shot we’re going to get a lot in games, so that’s one that we are really repping, and it’s kind of like second nature now.

We’ve played a couple competitions during practice. Sometimes it gets a little too competitive. But yeah, no H-O-R-S-E games yet. We probably should do that. I’m getting so used to dominating, I wouldn’t want to get in her head or anything. (Laughter).

Q. Megan, what really stands out to you about Mercer? What has your attention about them?
MEGAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, they’re a really good team. They’ve got a really good point guard. They’ve got an all-around balanced team, and it’s impressive to hear that they have a 17-game win streak and they won their conference tournament. I would just say they’re overall really well balanced, and their guards are especially really good.

Q. Megan, you and Tania were on the All-Big Ten freshman team, as I recall. You had to stand there and watch her go through what she’s gone through the previous two years. What do you admire the most about what she fought her way back on to the floor?
MEGAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, I think just that, seeing her fight and drive to want to keep getting back out on the court. To go through what she’s been through, not a lot of people can come back the way she has. She’s just been persevering through anything. Whatever is thrown at her, she keeps having a positive attitude and attacking rehab. It’s been really amazing to be able to watch her go through that and to really stand out and to be out there right now.

Q. For any of the players, you’ve been playing against Big Ten opponents for two months now. Is it good to maybe see something different, experience something different, because Big Ten, you guys know each other so well?
MEGAN GUSTAFSON: Yeah, it’s nice to switch it up a little bit. We’ve been playing Big Ten teams for a while, for four years now. So it’s nice to have a team that maybe doesn’t know us as well or we don’t know them as well. So I think it’ll just be a breath of fresh air.

Q. Tania, you’ve got that one-handed floater down. Have you been practicing that since high school, or is that something you developed? That’s not an easy shot.
TANIA DAVIS: Yeah, obviously with my height discrepancy, I’ve got to find different ways to get the ball into the basket. When I was in high school, it was just understanding that I’m not as tall and not as physical as everyone else, so I’m not going to be able to get to the basket and get an easy lay-up off, like some of the taller guards.

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So back when I was in high school or middle school, that was what my AAU coach, we really worked on that floater. I saw a lot of NBA players doing it, like Kyrie, like Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups. I thought it was a good weapon to have in my bag.

Q. Tania, obviously the physical part of coming back is pretty well-known, but can you discuss the mental part of it, playing through a season, and were you ever looking over your shoulder waiting for something bad to happen? And how did you get through that mental barrier to do what you did?
TANIA DAVIS: Well, I would definitely say after the first injury, after the first ACL injury, it was more physical than it was mental, getting used to rehabbing every day, putting that strain on my body every single day and trying to fight through that every single day, but I would say with the second ACL it was definitely more mental. It took a lot more for me to get up out to bed in the morning and to go to rehab and look forward to rehab and doing rehab every single day, when I just went through the same thing not too long ago.

My teammates, my best friends, my coaches, my family, they were definitely huge for me, but the mental aspect of just trying to get up every single day and rehab for something that you don’t even know if it’s going to continue to be there for you in the end, that was just definitely hard for me.

Q. Tania, Mercer is a team that I think is fifth in the country, fewest turnovers, 11 a game. Tell me a little bit about their guard play and it just appears to be a team that doesn’t make very many mistakes.
TANIA DAVIS: Yeah, they’re very disciplined, very talented. Takes what the defense gives them. They’re going to be very patient on the offensive end. They’re not going to rush or get in a hurry-up situation. That’s not what they’re used to. That’s not what their coaches want. They’re very disciplined on the offensive end, so we just have to play very solid defense, play our principles, and try our best to just get in their heads. If that doesn’t work, if they miss or if they make a shot, just get out and run our transition.

Q. Hannah, does anything change for you or your team because you’re playing at home but this is the NCAA Tournament?
HANNAH STEWART: Yeah, well, I mean, obviously Carver looks a little different. It’s not really our gym anymore. There’s NCAA logos everywhere. But it’s also cool because it is still our gym, and you know, this is where we play. Some of us were joking around getting a little defensive, like what, we can’t go on our court? This is our court, that’s not fair.

But no, it’s awesome, and I think routine-wise as far as game day tomorrow, it’ll stay pretty much the same, which is nice, because we all have a routine that we do for game days, and I’ll still be able to braid Megan’s hair in the same spot, which is a big deal. But yeah, we’re really proud to be at home and excited to play in front of a lot of our fans.

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Q. Coach, your three guards, over 130 assists. Hannah has got 70, I think Megan has got 50. Is this one of your better passing teams? You led the nation in assists per game there for a while. That’s got to be one of your favorite stats, isn’t it?
LISA BLUDER: It absolutely is. It’s something that we get excited about every single day is how many assists we have. I believe we have some of the best post-passing guards in America. Megan and Hannah, again, they look for each other, and when people double Megan, she makes them pay.

So it’s pretty exciting how well they share the ball. It’s just a fun style, and it just shows team chemistry, and we all embrace that.

Q. You’ve got a small coaching tree at the tournament with Robin and Jennie. What does that mean for you and having to also essentially play one of them in the second round?
LISA BLUDER: Yeah, you know, I guess when you coach long enough and you start running into your former players, that’s a good thing. It means that they loved the game and they wanted to continue coaching it. I think it’s a terrific thing.

I don’t love playing against my former players, obviously, but at the same time, we cheer for each other. I mean, all year long, we cheer for each other. It’s just that one time when you play against each other, it makes it awkward.

Q. You guys have already had a great season this year, but there’s so much emphasis on the NCAA Tournament. Do you worry about your players putting too much pressure on themselves to try to meet that?
LISA BLUDER: I think coaches worry about everything this time of year. Like what we worry about, is the water cold enough? It’s just what you do. It’s part of the nature of the beast is that you have to find something to worry about.

I have to trust them, that they have paid the work. They’re confident. And when you’re confident, it can take away some of those worries for them and the pressure for them.

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You know, they want this so badly, and they certainly don’t want to let down the fan base here at Iowa. But at the same time, we just want to try to alleviate some of that pressure from them and just go out and play Iowa basketball every day.

Q. How would you describe what was Robin like as a player? What was Jennie like? What are your memories of them as players for you?
LISA BLUDER: Ironically they’re both pretty tenacious. They’re both very, very similar. They were both power forwards. They both were incredibly competitive. They both were terrific rebounders. They played very similar to each other, and it’s going to be an interesting game tomorrow.

Q. When you look at Tania’s career path, I know as a coach you admire that she fought her way back, not once but twice. How rewarding is it for you to see her in this moment getting to play in the NCAA Tournament?
LISA BLUDER: It is absolutely rewarding. I think you can tell the emotion in her voice about her being here. This is what she came here to do. You know, Tania is a basketball player, and you think, yeah, they’re all basketball players. No, Tania is a basketball player. She would not be at Iowa if it wasn’t for basketball. She loves the game. She came here to play. She came here to compete at a high level, and now it’s happening her senior year. Does it make it even more special because she’s been denied the last two years? Yeah, I think it does make it more special for her. And honestly, when she first came back this year and was going in practice, I mean, there were several times us coaches, we’re choking up because we’re seeing this kid out there playing again, and it’s been very special.

Q. One of my favorite snapshots of your team is that second game against Indiana, towards the end you had the game pretty much in hand. All five of your starters walking down the court hand in hand. You’ve talked about the chemistry of this team. That’s just got to go a long ways in some of the victories.
LISA BLUDER: Yeah, they call it the victory formation. It’s pretty cool. It just happened naturally. It’s not something they planned. It’s not something that they figured they were going to do. It just happened. It happened earlier in the year. It actually started quite a while ago, and when the games give themselves an opportunity to have that relief of kind of walking down the floor together to that free-throw line, it’s beautiful to watch.

Q. Earlier today you were named one of the four finalists for the Naismith coaching award. What’s that mean to you?
LISA BLUDER: You know, any time you get a coaching award or a recognition of any kind, it’s all reflective of the great team that you’ve had, right? And then obviously — what I’m happy about is for my staff because those guys work so hard, and any time you get any recognition as a head coach, it’s reflective of not only your team but your entire staff, your administration, your university. It’s a whole package deal, and that’s what makes me happy about it.

Q. Have you ever had a player handle the physicality of play the way teams guard a player, like Megan Gustafson has handled that?
LISA BLUDER: No, never. There’s never been anybody that’s — that I’ve coached that has had to take what she’s had to take as far as the physical play. There’s nobody that’s handled it so beautifully. There’s nobody that’s handled it with such composure. I don’t know how she does it, honestly.

But no, there’s nobody that I’ve ever coached that’s played like her.

Q. What impresses you most about Mercer? What concerns you most about Mercer?
LISA BLUDER: You know, they stay within their lane as far as they know what they’re good at and they just do it. They don’t try to do things outside of themselves. They know what they’re good at. They play hard. They compete. I mean, every game you look at it, you win 17 straight games, you’re feeling pretty good about yourself coming into this tournament, and especially since they know they played well in last year’s NCAA Tournament.

They challenge themselves in the non-conference and played some really good schools. So what scares me is you’ve got a guard like Calloway who is definitely a BCS point guard. She is a very, very good point guard, and Rosendal, who is an excellent three-point shooter. Titus is an amazing athlete, long at 6’1″, can pull up, has a great mid-range game but long arms. Thompson I think is the heart and soul of this team. I think that she is just a blue-collar kid that will will herself to get rebounds and will will herself to get points, and then you’ve got a really nice post player, as well.

So this is a team that has all aspects and they have experience, and a very good coach, too. Susie has been around a long time.

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