When last we saw the #14 Iowa women's basketball team on the court, they were dropping a 77-70 heartbreaker to Iowa State in Ames. They had 10 days to stew over that defeat before finally taking the court again tonight, at home against Central Florida. The Knights didn't make it easy on Iowa -- the game was tied at halftime and they stayed naggingly close to Iowa in the fourth quarter. But the Hawkeyes eventually did enough to earn a 69-61 win and improve to 6-2 on the season.
Iowa got out to a 17-13 lead after the first quarter, but gave that back in the second quarter and ended the half tied at 31-all. Both teams struggled to make shots in the first 20 minutes; Iowa shot just 33% (9/27) from the floor (though they were 5/12 from 3-point range), but UCF was no better, making only 39% (12/31) of their shots. When the teams weren't missing shots, they were turning the ball over; Iowa gave the ball away 14 times in the opening half, while UCF coughed it up 12 times as well. UCF owned a slight advantage in points off turnovers (12-8) and points in the paint (8-6), but Iowa made up for that with slightly better 3-point shooting (5/12 vs 3/9). Caitlin Clark was one of Iowa's few offensive bright spots, scoring 13 points on 4/10 shooting to lead the way.
Fortunately, the third quarter was a much better one for Iowa. Their offense finally woke up and they made shots at a pretty good clip, scoring 25 points on 62% shooting, including 6/7 shooting on 2-point tries. They also went 7/9 at the free throw line and turned the ball over just twice, a marked improvement from their sloppy play in the first half. Their defense helped keep UCF in check, too, limiting them to 12 points on just 35% (6/17) shooting, They even got a bit fortunate with UCF inexplicably missing all five free throw attempts they took in the third quarter. Iowa entered their fourth quarter with a 13-point lead and it seemed like it would be a smooth march to victory at that point.
Alas, that wasn't the case, as UCF outscored Iowa 18-13 in the final quarter. Iowa shot 46% from the floor in the final quarter, better than UCF's 36% on field goals, but the Hawkeyes couldn't make three-pointers (just 1/5) and went cold at the free throw line (2/5). They also went back to turning the ball over -- a lot (7 times). Clark had a particularly rough fourth quarter, scoring just one point and going 0/5 from the floor (0/4 from long range). That said, while Iowa couldn't maintain or extend their lead to coast to victory, they did keep UCF at arm's length in the fourth quarter -- the closest the Knights got it was five points and Iowa immediately got a bucket to push the lead back to seven when that happened. For the most part, the lead stayed around 8-10 points throughout the final quarter.
Caitlin Clark led Iowa with 21 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists, but it was another rough shooting night for her -- just 5/18 overall and 3/12 from behind the arc. She even missed three free throws (finishing 8/11). I'm not overly worried yet, but the poor shooting has persisted for a few games now, which is a bit concerning. Hopefully she's just caught in a bit of a funk; Iowa will need her to shoot a bit better than this to win games in the Big Ten on a regular basis. Monika Czinano had 19 points on an efficient 8/11 shooting, including 12 points in the second half (8 points in Iowa's decisive third quarter). Good things happen when Iowa is able to get Czinano involved down low. McKenna Warnock was the third Iowa player in double figures, with 13 points on 5/11 shooting, along with 7 rebounds, and 7 assists. She was especially good in the fourth quarter, posting 7 points on 3/4 shooting and 3 rebounds and 2 assists.
Outside of the lackluster shooting for most of the game, the big takeaway from this performance has to be the turnovers. 23 turnovers is simply far too many giveaways; UCF wasn't able to punish Iowa for that level of sloppiness, but most teams will. Turnovers have been a semi-persistent problem for this team over the last few years and it's something they really need to get under control a bit more. Their fast pace and aggressive approach on offense is going to lend itself to a few more turnovers, but they need to do a better job of balancing that attacking mindset with the ability to take care of the ball .
NEXT: Iowa wraps up non-conference play with a home game against IUPUI on Tuesday, December 21 (2 PM CT, BTN+).