Iowa’s 96-91 victory at Indiana on Saturday was huge. For the first 34 minutes of that game, Iowa played its best basketball of the season. The role players especially stepped up in a game where Indiana sold out to stop Caitlin Clark. That team effort made Iowa look like the Top 10 team we hoped and expected to see all season.
But there’s a reason that Iowa is only ranked #21 after the Indiana win—for most of the season, the Hawkeyes haven't looked like a Top 10 team. And there’s also a reason that people say it’s hard to beat the same team twice. Could Iowa continue to look like a top team and beat Indiana twice in just over 48 hours, or would Indiana get revenge for Saturday’s loss?
The game started just like Saturday, with Iowa jumping out to a 9-2 lead. The Hawks were getting good shots and playing tight defense. But unlike Saturday, Indiana responded. The Hoosiers attacked the basket more, and capitalized on bad Iowa turnovers to take a 14-9 lead. The Indiana momentum continued, and they led by as many as six points. But then Iowa responded with a 9-0 run to retake the lead. A couple of late Kylie Feuerbach free throws gave Iowa a 26-23 lead to end the first quarter.
The start of the second quarter was a back-and-forth offensive slugfest with neither team gaining a significant advantage. But then Iowa turned the ball over on a staggering seven (!) straight possessions. Indiana capitalized on those turnovers to the tune of a 14-0 run and took a 48-36 lead. Iowa didn’t do much better in the final few minutes, and Indiana hit a buzzer-beater to go up 52-41 at halftime. Indiana scored a jaw-dropping 23 points off Iowa turnovers in the first half.
In the early third quarter, Iowa finally started to take care of the ball better on offense, and the defensive effort improved as well. The Hawks used those improvements to go on a run of their own, and closed Indiana’s lead to just five points at 58-53. A few moments later, Iowa got a Clark and-1 with a chance to pull within four points.
And then the Big Ten officials decided that they hadn’t played enough of a role in the game so far. Clark was whistled for an intentional foul for making contact to the face of the Indiana defender with her elbow on the drive. The contact was weak at best. The Indiana player also moved her head into Clark’s elbow while chasing her, and then flopped after the weak contact.
Clark made her free throw to cut the lead to four points, but then the Hoosiers got two free throws and the ball. They made made both free throws. On the ensuing possession, Iowa looked to have a steal, but Monika Czinano was whistled for another weak foul. Iowa missed a chance to run in transition, and Indiana got another free throw. Despite the officiating, Iowa closed to within 65-62, before a late Indiana free throw made the game 66-62 heading to the fourth quarter.
In the early part of the fourth quarter, Iowa’s momentum continued and the Hawkeyes took their first lead of the second half at 72-70 with 5:14 to play thanks to a Czinano and-1. Addison O’Grady got a block and transition bucket moments later to make it 74-70, which got Carver rocking.
The rest of the fourth quarter was a battle. Iowa extended the lead as high as six points, while Indiana cut it as low as three points on multiple occasions. In the final few minutes, both teams exchanged buckets on nearly every possession. Iowa also benefited from a play where Clark pushed off, dropped her defender, and hit a short jumper. It was probably an offensive foul, but Iowa finally got an officiating break.
In the last minute and a half with Iowa up five points, the Hawks forced an offensive foul and a missed thre-pointer on back-to-back possessions. Two Gabbie Marshall free throws gave Iowa a 7-point lead. Indiana then missed several threes in a row, before finally hitting one with six seconds left. Warnock was fouled on the other end and hit both free throws. Indiana missed a final three-point attempt, and the game was over. Iowa overcame an 11-point halftime deficit and beat Indiana for the second time in two days, 88-82.
Monika Czinano played one of the best games of her career, scoring 31 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. 13 of her points came in the fourth quarter as Iowa was making its final decisive run. She also had a couple big plays on the defensive end. Caitlin Clark also played well, scoring 28 points, grabbing 8 rebounds, and dishing 8 assists. She had 7 turnovers in the game, but all of those were in the first half. When she settled in and stopped forcing things, she played very well.
McKenna Warnock was a typically efficient 5/8 from the field, and she had 16 points and 7 rebounds. Addison O’Grady didn’t quite get into double-digits, but she added 8 points and two blocks in just eight minutes of game time. I’d like to see the coaches try running her and Czinano on the floor at the same time for a stretch just to see how it looks. A box score for the game is here.
Biggest Win of the Season
This is without a doubt Iowa’s biggest win of the season. Winning at Indiana might be tougher on paper, but Iowa jumped out to such a big lead in that game, that it was almost impossible to surrender it.
In this game, the Hawks faced a ton of adversity. First that came at halftime when Iowa faced an 11-point deficit and had just spent most of the second quarter gifting Indiana points with bad turnovers. The Hawks could have easily folded, but instead fought back to make it a game.
Then during that intentional foul stretch in the 3rd quarter, the Hawks also could’ve folded. They were doing everything they could to get back into the game, but the officiating was going against them. Instead Iowa fought through it and kept shrinking Indiana’s lead.
Finally, Iowa actually put together a great stretch of team defense in the second half. After giving up 52 points in the first half, it looked like Indiana had Iowa’s defense figured out. Iowa responded by forcing tough shots and turnovers for most of the second half. Indiana scored just 30 points in the game’s final 20 minutes.
Competing for the Conference Title
Here is how the top of the Big Ten conference standings look after Iowa’s win:
12-3 #6 Michigan
12-4 #17 Ohio State
12-4 #13 Maryland
12-4 #21 Iowa
11-4 #10 Indiana
One important note for those standings is that Michigan, Maryland, and Indiana won’t finish the conference season with 18 conference games while Iowa and Ohio State will. That means Iowa can only tie Ohio State.
It also means that if Iowa takes care of business on Thursday against Rutgers, Sunday’s game against Michigan would be for at worst a share of the Big Ten regular season conference championship. If Ohio State managed to lose one of its final two games, Sunday’s game could be for the outright conference title.
The Buckeyes close the season with a home game against Penn State and a road game at Michigan State. Neither team is currently projected as an NCAA Tournament team, but both have upset better teams in the conference recently.
One other note: a win over Rutgers should guarantee Iowa a Top-4 finish in the conference and a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament. Indiana and Maryland still play each other, so one of them will finish with five losses. With a loss against Michigan, Iowa would also finish with five losses, but would have more conference wins than either Indiana or Maryland.
Looking to March
Before Iowa’s game against Indiana on Saturday, the Hawks were projected as a 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament by ESPN. The biggest hole in Iowa’s resume was a lack of ranked victories. Now Iowa has two in just over 48 hours.
After those two wins, Iowa should be back on the 6-seed line at a minimum. It’s possible the Hawks might even be pushing toward a 5-seed, as several teams in that area have dropped games recently.
If the Hawkeyes want to make a push and get a top 4-seed, they will likely need to win out in the regular season and win one or two games in the Big Ten Tournament or win the whole Big Ten Tournament if they drops another regular season game. That’s a daunting task, but anything seems possible now that the team is getting healthy and they're playing their best basketball.
As mentioned, Iowa returns to action on Thursday, February 24 at 7 PM CT on the road at Rutgers. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
Rutgers is 9-18 on the season, and 2-13 in the Big Ten. As terrible as those records look, Rutgers has won two of its last three games, and also came close to upsetting Ohio State on the road just a few games ago. This is the definition of a trap game with the Michigan game looming on Sunday. Iowa can’t afford a letdown.