Iowa’s 8-1 start to the Big Ten season has been great. The Hawkeyes have turned things around after a lackluster non-conference performance, and once again looked like the team that made the Sweet 16 last season.
But there has been one thing missing from Iowa’s schedule in the first nine Big Ten games: a game against a Top 5 team in the Big Ten. Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Maryland, and Ohio State are the teams most likely to finish Top 5 in the Big Ten this season, and until tonight Iowa had not played any of the other four.
Tonight’s game against Ohio State, then, was important for several reasons. First, it served as a litmus test for where Iowa actually stands. In the last seven games since Iowa’s loss to Northwestern, the Hawks have looked like one of the best teams in the conference. But the Hawks also haven’t played particularly difficult competition in most of those games. Would Iowa’s form continue, or would Ohio State expose flaws in this Iowa team that we haven’t seen as much since the non-conference portion of the season?
Next, the game presented Iowa a big opportunity to improve its NCAA Tournament resume. Because the non-conference slate went poorly and Iowa started conference play against most of the league’s weaker teams, the Hawks haven’t had many opportunities for wins against NCAA Tournament-level opposition. A win over Ohio State would give Iowa perhaps its biggest victory of the season thus far.
Finally, a win over Ohio State would give Iowa a great chance of finishing in the Top 4 in the conference and securing a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament. Before the game, both Ohio State and Maryland had three conference losses compared to just one for Iowa. A win over Ohio State would bump the Buckeyes down to four conference losses, and Iowa would hold the tiebreaker over them. Even though Iowa’s end-of-season schedule is tough, the win would make it unlikely that Iowa would finish behind both Ohio State and Maryland in the standings.
The first quarter started at a frantic offensive pace. Ohio State came out on fire from three, hitting 6 of 7 long-range shots in the quarter. Iowa was led by Caitlin Clark, who scored 13 first quarter points. Iowa also got to the rim well and hit on 3/6 threes of their own. The Hawkeyes also took care of the ball, not turning it over until the final 20 seconds of the quarter. Still, Ohio State took a narrow 28-27 lead to the second quarter.
The second quarter wasn’t quite as frantic, but it was close. Clark continued to lead the Iowa offense, but she also got capable help from Monika Czinano and the rest of Iowa’s starters. Ohio State, meanwhile, continued to shoot well in general, though the Buckeyes made just one additional three-pointer. Iowa got the better of the play in the quarter and led 48-44 at halftime. Clark had 21 points at the break, and didn’t play the half’s final few minutes because she had two fouls.
Clark came out on fire to start the third, and Iowa quickly built a 55-46 lead before an Ohio State timeout. The offense slowed down a bit for both teams in the middle of the quarter, but picked back up again in the final few minutes. Ohio State got the better of the play, and narrowed Iowa’s lead to two points at 68-66 after three. Clark was up to 33 points after three quarters.
Ohio State’s run continued early in the fourth quarter and they briefly took a 71-68 lead. Iowa came back behind a couple Clark threes and took the lead back. The teams went back and forth for most of the quarter until around the two-minute mark, when Iowa led by three points. Clark tried a crossover, and the ball bounced off the Ohio State defender’s foot. Instead of calling a kicked ball, the referees let the game play on, Ohio State recovered the ball, and Clark was called for a foul. Ohio State then scored on its possession. Ohio State got a steal and run-out on Iowa’s next possession and suddenly led 86-85.
Clark responded with a jumper to put Iowa up 87-86, before Ohio State hit a jumper on the other end to make it 88-87 with just under a minute to go. On Iowa’s next possession, Clark got a shot up and it rimmed out. Iowa was forced to foul, and Ohio State hit two free throws to go up three with 18.4 seconds to play.
Clark got a three-point look, but it again rimmed out. The ball then went out of bounds off an Ohio State player, and Iowa got another chance. Ohio State chose to foul Kate Martin, and she made the first free throw. She intentionally missed the second, and McKenna Warnock got the rebound. She was off-balance, and an Ohio State defender then hip checked her to the ground. The referees didn’t call anything, and, after a lengthy video review, assessed Iowa with a foul with 0.4 seconds remaining. Ohio State hit the free throws and won 92-88.
Clark led Iowa with 43 points, 7 assists, and 4 rebounds. She also had 7 turnovers, though, including several during the key stretch in the fourth quarter where Ohio State retook the lead. Monika Czinano had 23 points on 11/13 shooting and 9 rebounds. No other Iowa player got into double-figures. A box score for the game is here.
How the hell do you miss a kicked ball with two minutes left in a one-possession game? The ball went rolling down the court the other way after the kick. There literally isn’t anything else that could’ve happened. If Clark kicked it, it would’ve gone towards the basket. If the defender tipped it, it would’ve bounced not rolled. Yet all three officials just completely missed the kick.
Then when Ohio State recovered the ball on the ground, Clark got back and tied the defender up. The possession arrow favored Iowa. The referees could’ve fixed their screw-up by calling a jump ball. Instead, they called a foul on Clark. Because of course they did.
Then to add insult to attempted injury, when Warnock got the rebound with five seconds left, she got hip-checked to the ground. She was momentarily off-balance, but the hip-check absolutely finished her off. The referees didn’t call it.
At the moment Warnock got hip-checked, Clark was wide open at the three-point line not far from Warnock. There wasn’t a defender within feet of her. If Warnock isn’t fouled and kicks it out, does Clark bury an open three to win the game? I’ll let you decide.
What I do know is that the officiating in women’s college basketball is a disgrace. If you or I performed this badly in key situations in our jobs, we would no longer have them. Yet game after game is altered in key moments when officials just absolutely blow a call. It’s inexcusable. Yet with rare exceptions, referees seemingly face no repercussions from their mistakes. The conference doesn’t even comment.
I don’t know how to fix this plague of officiating. I don’t know if it can be fixed. But it sure is enough to make me want to stop watching the sport and do something else with my time some nights.
I hate to focus on officiating in recaps. It takes credit or blame in a game away from the players that played in it. The blown calls certainly shifted momentum at a time when Iowa was up. It robbed Iowa of a chance to win or tie late. But at the end of the day, Iowa’s execution in the last five minutes just wasn’t where it needed to be, either.
Clark was incredible for most of the game, but she turned it over too many times late. The team in general focused too much on feeding Czinano late instead of trying to attack the basket or set up open shots for shooters.
Defensively, Iowa was terrible. And as bad as the defense was on first shots, Iowa’s rebounding in the fourth quarter was worse. Multiple times Iowa had seemingly earned a stop only to see Ohio State outwork Iowa on the glass to earn an extra possession or quick basket. If Iowa had gotten stops on any of those possessions, the game wouldn’t have been close enough for the referees to even influence. Instead, Iowa gave points away, and the rest was history.
Iowa returns to action this Thursday, February 3 at 6:30 PM CT on the road at Wisconsin. The game will be streamed on BTN Plus.
The Badgers are 5-15 on the season and 2-8 in the Big Ten. This is a game that Iowa should absolutely win. A loss would be extremely harmful to the team’s conference standing and NCAA Tournament resume.