Coming into the season, I didn’t expect Iowa to be a true underdog at any point in the regular season. Sure, there were games that I didn’t think Iowa would win, but there weren’t any games that I would’ve been shocked if Iowa won.
Though the season hasn’t quite gone how Iowa wanted, that has largely held true. Other than Iowa’s game against Duke right after the Covid pause, the Hawkeyes have played every opponent close even in defeat.
But today’s game against Michigan felt different. Since an early slip-up against Nebraska, #6 Michigan has largely rolled in conference play. Iowa, meanwhile, has experienced a host of injuries that left it with just 7 healthy players in the win over Wisconsin earlier in the week. McKenna Warnock and Gabbie Marshall, two extremely valuable starters, were among the injured Hawkeyes who missed that game and were also unable to return for this game.
To beat perhaps the best team in the conference, Iowa would need to play its best game of the season while overcoming severe depth issues and a hostile Michigan crowd.
The game didn’t start Iowa’s way on either end. Offensively, Michigan largely took away Caitlin Clark and Monika Czinano, leaving shots instead for Iowa’s other three starters. They hit a few, but missed more, leaving Iowa with plenty of empty possessions. Defensively, Iowa surrendered a couple open threes and let Michigan get the ball in too deep in the post. The Wolverines jumped out to a 14-7 lead in the first five minutes. Things didn’t get any better in the last five minutes of the quarter, and Michigan took a 25-15 lead to the second.
Michigan continued to press its advantage early in the second, and quickly jumped out to a 15-point lead. The Iowa offense got going a bit from there and kept the lead right around 15 for most of the quarter. Iowa finally got some stops late in the half, and the Michigan lead was 48-36 at halftime.
Michigan started the third quarter on another run, and quickly led by 19 and the game seemed over. The Wolverines continued their run in the middle of the quarter, and extended the lead to 25. But then Iowa’s offense finally started to click and the Hawkeyes made a run of their own to close the quarter. Michigan still led 70-54 heading to the fourth quarter, though.
In the fourth quarter, Iowa kept battling -- and Caitlin Clark went absolutely crazy. Clark attacked the basket ferociously. She started taking off-balance threes or shots from deep into Michigan’s logo. Every one of them went in. Iowa closed within single digits, then kept going. Iowa got as close as 5 points a few times in the final couple minutes, but couldn’t pull any closer due to good Michigan free throw shooting. The Hawkeyes eventually lost, 98-90.
Clark led Iowa with 46 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals. She had 25 points in the fourth quarter alone. Frankly it’s hard to describe some of the shots she made to close out the game. A video of those is below. Monika Czinano had 13 points, but fouled out of the game early and had just one rebound. Kate Martin was the last Hawkeye in double-figures with 11. A box score for the game is here.
Credit to Iowa for the fight they showed in the third and fourth quarters. Down 25 with just seven healthy players, Iowa could’ve packed it in and gone home. There’s no shame to losing to Michigan by a lot given the circumstances. Instead, Iowa battled on every possession and narrowly missed what would’ve been the most insane comeback in program history.
I’ve never seen an offensive performance like Clark’s in the fourth quarter. As the video showed, she was literally hitting shots from well back in the logo or while splitting double-teams. What the videos don’t show is that Michigan started doubling her off the ball for the entire length of the court. She hit some of those shots even while facing those circumstances. Clark might not win player of the year, but she damn well should.
Defense and Rebounding
Iowa’s effort during the comeback was great, but if they had played with that intensity defensively and on the glass in the first two and a half quarters, they would’ve won the game. Michigan built a big lead by hitting open shots, dominating the post, and killing Iowa on the glass.
Once Iowa sold out to get stops and rebounds, Michigan wasn’t nearly as successful. The question for the Hawkeyes now is how they manage to play that hard defensively for longer stretches of the game.
Affolter Steps Up
One solution to Iowa’s defensive and rebounding issues might be freshman Sydney Affolter. Affolter hasn’t played much this year, but played 22 minutes in this game. In that time, Affolter tied for the team lead in rebounds with six, got a steal, and forced several other jump balls. She also scored 7 points offensively.
Affolter in this game did many of the things Iowa’s guards just don’t do most of the time. She boxed out on most possessions. When Michigan drove to the lane, she actively tried to jump a passing lane or jump in and tie the offensive player up. She still has a ways to go offensively and in knowing game situations, but her effort on defense and on the boards is exactly what Iowa needs to see more often.
Iowa returns to action this Wednesday, February 9 at 6:30 PM CT at home against Minnesota. The game will be streamed on BTN Plus.
Minnesota is 11-13 on the season, and 4-8 in the Big Ten. Iowa defeated them 105-49 a few weeks ago. While that win was about as easy as they come, I don’t expect a similar result this time. The Gophers have played better in the last week or so, playing #5 Indiana close earlier in the week, and beating Michigan State on Sunday. Iowa is still the heavy favorite, but I’d be shocked to see another 50+ point victory.