In Iowa’s last game against Drake, they put up 103 points but played little defense. Today was largely the opposite. Playing a 2-3 zone, the Hawkeye defense looked strong for most of the game, forcing Wisconsin into bad shots and turnovers. But the Iowa offense struggled, particularly in the middle of the game, and that helped Wisconsin keep the game closer than it should have been. Ultimately, Iowa got their first Big Ten win and will learn lessons that should help them improve in the future.
The Hawkeye offense actually started the game fairly well. Monika Czinano and Sharon Goodman got good position inside early on, and were rewarded with easy baskets when their teammates found them. Iowa also got a couple threes, including one by Kate Martin at the buzzer to end the first quarter. Defensively, Iowa forced six first quarter turnovers, and several of those turned into easy baskets. All told, the Hawkeyes led 24-15 after the first quarter.
Iowa’s lead ballooned to 14 in the early second quarter, thanks to a few more threes and strong defense. Then the Iowa offense went cold. Ice cold.
Over the next four minutes, Wisconsin went on an 11-0 run. Iowa wasn’t getting the ball inside any more, and was starting to turn it over. The Hawkeyes did get a couple baskets to stop the run, but a Wisconsin three at the buzzer left Iowa with just a 5-point lead at halftime.
The second half didn’t start any better. The Iowa offense continued to struggle, and Wisconsin continued to chip away at the lead, briefly tying the game a few minutes into the third quarter.
But eventually the Iowa offense righted the ship. Czinano started to get involved again offensively, and the guards hit a few more threes. Iowa started to build their lead back in the late portion of the quarter, and a Caitlin Clark three to end the quarter pushed it to 10.
The Iowa hot streak continued into the early fourth quarter, and Iowa’s lead got as big as 19 in the middle of the quarter. Iowa then took their foot off the gas, and Wisconsin managed to narrow the gap toward the end of the game. The Hawkeyes finished things out with an 85-78 victory.
Clark led Iowa with 23 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. That said, she didn't shoot the ball well: just 8-23 from the field, and 3-10 from three. Czinano had 18 points and 9 rebounds. She got into some foul trouble late in the second quarter and early in the third, which was part of the reason that Iowa’s offense slowed down. Gabbie Marshall had her best game of the season with 15 points and 3 steals. McKenna Warnock was the final Hawkeye in double figures with 12 points. A box score for the game is here.
Iowa’s 2-3 zone largely did what their man defense couldn’t in the first two games: limit good shooting opportunities for their opponent. Wisconsin did have a couple stretches where they got better looks and shot well, but one of those was late in the fourth quarter when the game was already over. All told, Wisconsin shot 21 three-pointers in the game, and made just 19% of them.
The strength of the 2-3 zone is that it limits penetration opportunities. Against Drake in particular, Iowa surrendered a lot of open layups at the basket. The Iowa defense did better at limiting those types of shots today, and Wisconsin instead settled for shots they weren’t making from three.
One other benefit of the zone for this team in particular is that it lets the guards be more aggressive in passing lanes, because they know they have help defenders behind them. Clark and Marshall are particularly good at getting run-out steals by gambling on weak passes, and that could lead to big swings in future games if Iowa stays in the zone.
One downside to the zone is that it makes rebounding harder because Iowa’s defenders don’t have a set player to box out. Wisconsin is a bigger team, and tonight that size advantage plus the zone helped the Badgers earn a 49-33 rebounding advantage. Though I think the zone is Iowa’s better defensive option, they will need to work harder on the glass if they want to succeed in the zone the rest of the season.
This was the toughest game of Caitlin Clark’s young college career. She didn’t have her usually shooting touch from deep, and wasn’t drawing many whistles while getting bumped on drives to the basket. Even worse, when Iowa’s offense started to struggle, Clark tried to shoot her way out of the problem, often attempting shots over defenders closely guarding her.
The good news is, Clark largely corrected those issues in the second half. She stopped shooting difficult shots, instead focusing on finding open teammates, attacking the basket, and only taking shots when she was open. Those shots started to fall more, and she also helped Iowa’s offense work better later in the game.
Clark also still scored 23 points despite her offensive struggles. I don’t think Iowa has ever had a player that could score 23 points on a bad day.
Coach Bluder continues to shuffle her bench options, particularly at guard. Today, that meant Lauren Jensen got an extended run, despite only playing a couple minutes in the game against Drake. I thought Jensen looked okay overall. She’s not afraid to shoot, constantly has her head on a swivel on defense, and plays with energy on both ends of the court. She was noticeably out of positions on both ends at times, however, and will need to continue to work on that part of her game. Still, she could be an intriguing option at the 3 position. Iowa has struggled so far this year to get production out of the 3 position, particularly on the offensive end.
Sharon Goodman continues to play good minutes backing up Czinano at the 5. Tonight she had six points, five rebounds, and a block. She also got whistled for a couple fouls that were iffy at best. Goodman might already be a better defender than Czinano, and she will continue to grow the more playing time she gets.
Iowa returns to action on Wednesday, December 9 at 6:30 pm at home against Iowa State. The game will be streamed on BTN Plus. The Cyclones are 2-1 on the season, and are ranked #19 in the AP Poll.