Three of Iowa’s last four opponents coming into today’s game are currently outside of projected NCAA Tournament brackets. Games against non-NCAA Tournament opponents are generally good to help a team build momentum, but they also pose some risk. A loss to one of those teams could do significant damage to a team’s morale and to its tournament resume.
Today’s game against Penn State was similar. At 9-8 and 3-4 in conference, the Lady Lions aren’t going to make the NCAA Tournament. But they could’ve done some significant damage to Iowa’s season goals with a victory.
The first quarter of the game looked much like an Iowa game from last year. The Iowa offense was scoring well in the paint, and also hit on four three-pointers. The Iowa defense allowed too much penetration and gave up too many offensive rebounds. Iowa briefly held a 25-13 lead thanks to its offense, before Penn State closed the half with a couple baskets. Iowa still led 25-17 after the first quarter, though. Caitlin Clark was notably held scoreless, though she had five assists.
The second quarter started just as fast as the first, but Penn State got the better of the action and closed Iowa’s lead down to 34-33. Then Clark and the Iowa offense really got going and extended the lead to 10 at 45-35. Penn State again closed the quarter well, and cut Iowa’s halftime lead down to five points at 52-47.
Iowa finally shifted to another gear early in the third quarter. McKenna Warnock scored eight quick points, and the rest of the Iowa offense followed her lead, quickly jumping out to an 18-point lead at 68-50. Iowa and Penn State were roughly equal the rest of the quarter, but the damage was done, and Iowa led 79-59 heading to the fourth quarter.
Iowa pushed its lead up to 30 early in the fourth quarter, before putting in some of the bench players. The Iowa offense kept on scoring, though, and Iowa had its best scoring game of the season, winning 107-79.
McKenna Warnock led Iowa with 25 points and 7 rebounds. She was a perfect 3/3 from three-point range. At her best, she can score from anywhere on the court, and she was certainly at her best tonight. Monika Czinano scored 24 points and narrowly missed a double-double with nine rebounds. Gabbie Marshall also had 12 points, including four made three-pointers.
Caitlin Clark had another record-breaking performance, with 20 points, 17 assists, and 7 rebounds. Those 17 assists are a school and Big Ten regular season record. A box score for the game is here.
Iowa’s defense was really bad in the first half, but that wasn’t overly surprising. This was Iowa’s second game in approximately 48 hours, and the Hawks traveled halfway across the country to get there. Iowa also had a terrible defensive first half against Penn State last year.
I was more impressed by Iowa’s defensive response in the second half. The Hawks switched to a triangle and two defense, and did enough defensively in the third and early fourth quarter to take a commanding lead back. That’s growth as a team, even if it doesn’t always look pretty.
As a team Iowa shot 13/25 (52%) from three in today’s game, which is extremely encouraging. Today’s performance looked like the Iowa of last year offensively—a team full of shooters that would take open shots with confidence.
Even better, Caitlin Clark started taking, and making, shots from well beyond the arc again. In the last month or so, in the midst of her shooting drought, Clark has shied away from taking really deep shots. There was no reason to take them when she wasn’t even making the closer ones. Now, though, she looks like she has her confidence back, and is starting to hit the threes she did last year.
If the Iowa offense is finally starting to hit three-pointers more consistently again, then this season is about to get a lot more interesting.
Iowa returns to action this Friday, January 28th at 7 PM on the road at Northwestern. The game will be streamed on BTN Plus.
Northwestern defeated Iowa 77-69 on January 6 in Iowa City. Since that game, though, Northwestern has hit a cold streak, losing four of their last five (including a game at home to Penn State) and have fallen out of projected NCAA Tournament brackets. Iowa really needs to get revenge in this game if it wants to compete for a Big Ten title.