Advertisement

Lisa Bluder, in her 40th year as a head coach, looking to lead Iowa to its first NCAA title

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Lisa Bluder is probably known best as Caitlin Clark's coach.

But while most credit for Iowa's success over the past two years has been heaped on the program's 6-foot superstar on the court, Clark and the other Hawkeyes players give credit to the 62-year-old mentor on the sideline.

Bluder has been a head coach since 1983-84, all in the state of Iowa and the last 24 years at the University of Iowa. She's racked up 882 wins and has coached the Hawkeyes to eight straight 20-win seasons.

On Monday, she takes the Hawkeyes (32-4) into a rematch of last year's national title game with LSU (31-5) in the Albany 2 regional final.

“Coach Bluder is a Hall of Fame coach,” Clark said Sunday. “I think the biggest thing for me throughout the recruiting process that I loved about her is she’s a player’s coach. She’s not going to have a set offense that you have to run. She’s going to tailor everything to what she has on her team and what’s going to put her team in positions to be very successful."

Bluder was the Naismith national coach of the year in 2019, the year she coached another national player of the year in Megan Gustafson. But much of her success has gone under the radar.

Long-time assistant Jan Jensen, who played for Bluder at Drake, has been on her Iowa staff since 2000. She called her boss “one of the good guys” in women's basketball.

She is a coach who got into the profession when there was no money or fame involved “swept the floor, did all the things right, drove the vans, and has really, I think, done a lot behind the scenes to continue pushing (women's basketball) forward," Jensen said.

Bluder describes herself as a basketball lifer. The kid who took over the family hoop that was built for her brothers and had her dad move some bushes so she could shoot from further out.

But she's also a great Xs and Os coach, Jensen said, echoing Clark's point that Bluder is able to adapt to any style that best fits the strengths of the team she has at that moment. She has run everything from a triangle, to a basic motion, to the current read-and-react system that is designed to get Clark the ball in the best position possible, Jensen said.

Bluder has earned the respect of her peers, including her opponent on Monday, LSU coach Kim Mulkey.

“We talk about growing the game? Look at their fan base,” Mulkey said. “I just have much respect for what she does with her players. I think the sign of a great coach is you adapt and you adjust to the personnel. And while each coach has a different style, if you don’t adjust and adapt to each team you have, you become stagnant. I think that the team she has and the things that they do to be successful tells you that she understands and knows the game.”

But while Bluder is hoping to guide her team to its first national championship this year, after leading the Hawkeyes to the title game a year ago, she said her biggest hope is that she has been able to coach her players to be successful in life.

And that comes, she said, with a philosophy she won't change based on personnel — one centered on faith and teaching honesty and integrity.

“I think that’s kind of where it lands,” she said. “Be kind to others, man.”

Her players say they've been listening.

“She really instills great values in us, and she believes that every single person on our team matters,” said Kate Martin, who has spent six years under Bluder at Iowa. “It doesn’t matter if you’re Caitlin, who plays 40 minutes a game, or if you’re somebody who doesn’t really get off the bench. Every single person on our team matters.”

___

AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg contributed to this report.

___

AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness