THE MONDAY TIPOFF: Hawkeyes’ History Is All In The Family

By JOHN BOHNENKAMP

Caitlin Clark said it, and then she and Iowa coach Lisa Bluder couldn’t resist laughing at how it sounded.

Clark and the Hawkeyes had just finished Saturday’s 87-64 win over Minnesota at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Bluder’s record-setting 234th Big Ten win.

When asked about how the Hawkeyes kept the Gophers from rallying in the second half, Clark said, “We always keep saying, ‘Stab and twist.’”

Then Bluder and Clark started laughing at how that sounded.

“We want to keep the foot on the throttle,” Clark said, making the Hawkeyes’ motto seem a lot less criminal.

Bluder made sure to point out that it was former Hawkeye Megan Gustafson, a national player of the year who is the program’s all-time leading scorer and rebounder, who coined the phrase.

“Kindest person in the world,” Bluder said, still laughing.

Gustafson took the credit for it on Sunday, saying on Twitter, “HAHAHAHA, I love this. It’s still alive and well!!!”

Clark got serious moments later, when she talked about Bluder becoming the leader in Big Ten wins and what the coach meant to her.

“She’s the reason I came here,” said Clark, sitting in her traditional spot to Bluder’s right. “She always believed in me, even when I was in high school. We always had the same vision, and maybe a lot of people around us didn’t have that same vision.”

Center Monika Czinano, sitting to Bluder’s left, nodded as Clark spoke.

“They’re all doing stuff the right way,” Czinano said of Bluder and her staff. “They care about us so much. Truly, we are more than athletes here in this program. We’re such a family. There’s such a family dynamic. And, they know basketball more than so many other people. I have so much trust in them, and they have so much trust in me. It just makes the game so much fun.

“I would never want to play for anyone else.”

The “family” thing can often sound cliched in sports, and there are times we find out that the “families” have more dysfunction than what we knew.

But it’s not like that with Bluder and the Hawkeyes. There’s a genuine appreciation for the present, and the past.

Bluder talked about the record, passing C. Vivian Stringer, a former Iowa coach who finished her Hall of Fame career at Rutgers.

“The only thing that’s odd about it for me was C. Vivian Stringer had (the record),” said Bluder, in her 23rd season at Iowa. “As a young coach at St. Ambrose, I would come over and work at her camps and I would sneak into her practices, pick her (brain). It just seems so odd because I have so much respect for C. Vivian Stringer. It’s kind of unusual, because she was here so long as well.”

Bluder praised Jan Jensen and Jenni Fitzgerald, the two assistant coaches who have been with Bluder since she arrived at Iowa. As much as the program is Bluder’s family, it belongs to them as well.

“I think the biggest thing for me is she cares for us more as people than basketball players,” Clark said of Bluder. “I promise you, it’s not like that everywhere else. A lot of people are like, ‘This is run like a business.’ Here, we’re like a family. We know there’s way more important things in life than putting a ball through the hoop or getting a win. We love to win, but at the end of the day there’s a lot more important things in life, and she knows that.”

The two top scorers in the program’s history, Gustafson and Ally Disterhoft, played for Bluder. Clark (1,967 points) and Czinano (1,947) are closing in on becoming the fourth and fifth Hawkeyes to pass 2,000 points for their careers, joining Gustafson (2,804), Disterhoft (2,102) and Cindy Haugejorde (2,059).

“These are two offensive specialists,” Bluder said when told of how close Clark, the Hawkeyes’ point guard, and Czinano, the starting center, are to the 2,000-point mark. “The perfect bookends, right there.”

A lot of history was sitting in the press room on Saturday.

History that’s all in the family.

Photo: Iowa’s Caitlin Clark (left) celebrates with coach Lisa Bluder (second from left), associate head coach Jan Jensen (second from right) and special assistant to the head coach Jenni Fitzgerald after Saturday’s win over Minnesota. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)

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