Rutgers has had one of the stranger seasons I’ve seen. The Scarlet Knights started Big Ten play 1-3, with their only win by five points over a Wisconsin team that finished with a 2-18 conference record. Then they were off for more than a month due to Covid. When the Scarlet Knights returned, they were on fire, running off nine consecutive wins in the Big Ten to end the season.
While nine consecutive wins is impressive, there is some reason to question that record a bit. Just three of Rutgers’ nine opponents during its winning steak had a Big Ten winning percentage over .500, and one of those was an Ohio State team in free fall when Rutgers beat them.
Regardless of those questions, Rutgers earned the #3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and is ranked #19 in the AP Poll. A win over Rutgers would be a nice boost to Iowa’s NCAA Tournament resume.
Iowa started the first quarter slow on offensive for a second consecutive game. The good news was that their defense started much better. The Hawkeyes played Rutgers tough in a 2-3 zone for the entire quarter, and that forced the Scarlet Knights into contested jumpers that they largely missed. In the middle of the quarter, Iowa finally got the offense going, and went on a 10-0 run. By the end of the quarter, Iowa led 18-9.
The second quarter started off about as well as it could have for Iowa. The defensive intensity stayed high, and Rutgers stayed cold from the floor. Offensively, Gabbie Marshall, who already had a big first quarter, was extremely hot from the floor. A Marshall three with just over three and a half minutes to go gave her 22 first half points (!) and gave Iowa a 21-point lead.
But just as Iowa looked to take total control of the game, the offense sputtered. The Hawkeyes went scoreless for the rest of the half after Marshall’s three. Rutgers, meanwhile, hit on a couple shots and put together a 7-0 run to end the half. Iowa still led 39-25 at halftime, but the game didn’t seem as out of reach as it had just a few minutes before.
The third quarter was back and forth. Rutgers finally started to shoot the ball well on jumpers and also had more success at driving the ball than they had had all game. Iowa continued to shoot decently well in the quarter, though not quite as well as they did in the second quarter. The Hawkeyes just missed on a shot at the buzzer, but still took a 60-49 lead into the fourth quarter.
Iowa started the fourth quarter well on both ends, and briefly extended their lead to 15 points. Rutgers then upped their intensity and went on a run of their own, cutting Iowa’s lead as low as eight points with a few minutes left. But Iowa got a couple stops, made a key basket, and held on from there to win 73-62.
Marshall led Iowa with 27 points on 10/15 shooting and 7/11 from three-point range. She also added seven rebounds, and was a big reason that Iowa jumped out to a big lead in the first and second quarters. Caitlin Clark scored 21 points on 7/15 shooting and dished 10 assists. She’s struggled shooting from distance so far this tournament, but has done well at finding her teammates in good positions to shoot. She was also a big key in Iowa breaking Rutgers’ press, which the Hawks did fairly well tonight overall. Monika Czinano added 20 points, and also shot 10/15 from the floor. McKenna Warnock had 5 points and 12 rebounds. She’s been banged up throughout the tournament and season, and got knocked to the floor a couple times again tonight. A box score from the game is here.
Clark: 37 min—8 pts
Marshall: 35 min—10 pts
Martin: 38 min—12 pts
Warnock: 37 min—7 pts
Czinano: 32 min—3 pts
Meyer: 7 min—3 pts
Taiwo: 5 min—2 pts
Goodman: 8 min— 5 pts
Team: 12 pts
This was one of Iowa’s best defensive performances of the season. Teams haven’t shot very well in their first game in the Big Ten Tournament so far this year, and Iowa took advantage of that early, playing a tough 2-3 zone and forcing Rutgers into a bunch of jumpers.
In the second half, Rutgers finally started to hit some shots, so Iowa switched to a triangle-and-two, with Clark and Marshall playing man against Rutgers’ two best scorers. The defense wasn’t always pretty in the second half, but it got enough stops to frustrate Rutgers and get Iowa the victory.
If the Hawks can bring this defensive effort the rest of March, it will be hard to beat them.
This morning, Caitlin Clark was named a 2nd Team All-American by ESPN, which awarded five players first team honors and five players second team. UConn freshman Paige Bueckers was named to the first team, while Michigan junior Naz Hillmon—the Big Ten Player of the Year—was not named to either team. While being an All-American as a freshman is a tremendous honor, it’s hard to not feel like Clark was robbed of a first team selection.
Monika Czinano also hit a career milestone tonight, scoring her 1,000th college point.
Iowa returns to action tomorrow (Friday) at approximately 3:30 PM Central on Fox Sports 2 against #7 seed Michigan State. The Spartans are 15-7 overall this year and finished 8-7 in the Big Ten regular season. They defeated #10 seed Penn State and #2 seed Indiana to get to the semifinals. Michigan State defeated Iowa 86-82 back in early December in East Lansing.
I have mixed feelings about this matchup. On one hand, Michigan State is certainly an easier matchup for Iowa than Indiana. The Spartans also had a couple players with injuries toward the end of their quarterfinal game, so they might not be at full strength tomorrow.
On the other hand, the Big Ten Tournament was about improving Iowa’s resume, and a win over Indiana would have done far more for Iowa than a potential win against Michigan State would.
Nonetheless, Iowa is into the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, and has an excellent chance to move onto the championship game where anything can happen.