Consistency, integrity fueled Iowa's Lisa Bluder en route to 700 wins
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The footage rolled across the jumbotron just as the final buzzer sounded, taking those inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena on a basketball journey of more than 30 years.
Former players and administrators from all three of Lisa Bluder’s coaching stops appeared on the video, offering up congratulatory words and praise as the Iowa coach stood and watched with a smile.
This was a night for celebration.
The Hawkeyes’ 83-67 season-opening win over Quinnipiac marked Bluder’s 700th of her career — a decorated one that began in 1984 and has seen Bluder climb from NAIA St. Ambrose University to the Division I ranks at Drake and now, Iowa.
While the wins have piled up, so have the people influenced by Bluder’s unwavering dedication to doing things the right way.
“I know I’m biased, but she has never compromised her integrity,” said longtime Iowa assistant Jan Jensen, who also played for Bluder at Drake. “She has always worked tirelessly. She got in it for all the right reasons — and she’s stayed in for all the right reasons — and there have been just so many young women who she has impacted over all the years.
“I think what was so cool about that video — it had St. Ambrose footage, had Drake footage and Iowa footage. And myself being a former player of hers, I have a little extra happiness I suppose because I got to be one of those players, and now I get to coach with her. Just a lot of pride and gratitude.”
Friday’s result puts Bluder in exclusive territory. She became just the 29th coach in the history of women’s college basketball to get to 700 wins and is one of only 10 active Division I coaches to reach the milestone. Success has arrived at every stop, with 169 of the victories coming at St. Ambrose (1984-90), 187 at Drake (1990-2000) and now 344 as a Hawkeye since 2000.
“It amazing to be able to be a part of this team and have coach Bluder as our coach,” said junior Megan Gustafson, who poured in 16 points and 15 rebounds in Friday’s win. “She cares about us, not just as basketball players but off the court too. So to be able to have a coach and to have played for someone like that is really special.”
As has been the case throughout Bluder’s career, an abundance of hard work and grit was needed to put the finishing touch on an impressive milestone. Iowa had a chance to deliver it last season had it knocked off Washington State in the WNIT quarterfinals, but the Cougars emerged with a 74-66 win to end the Hawkeyes’ season.
The milestone talk was put on pause. Quinnipiac did all it could Friday to extend the wait.
Buoyed by a let-it-fly offense that saw the Bobcats attempt 40 3-pointers, Quinnipiac stayed right on Iowa’s hip deep into the second half. It owned a 59-55 lead early in the fourth quarter until the Hawkeyes finally put the defensive foot down, limiting the Bobcats to just three field goals over the final nine minutes. Iowa used a 28-8 run in that time frame to secure the double-digit win.
“It’s just one game — I understand that — but anytime you have a milestone win, it just kind of gives you that time to reflect and look back and see all those people,” Bluder said. “And I told the women in the locker room afterwards, I’ve been able to coach a lot of great women in the last 30-something years. But this group’s really special, and I’m glad I got to share this with this group.”
There will be more groups and more wins to come, but Bluder’s approach won’t change a bit.
“Our motto — win, graduate, do it right — she has it all,” Iowa athletics director Gary Barta said. “Ever since she started in this career, she’s consistent.”
Dargan Southard covers preps, recruiting, Iowa and UNI athletics for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.