#2 Iowa 72, #7 Northwestern 59: Defense Wins The Day

By BraydonRoberts5 on March 4, 2022 at 10:48 pm
Caitlin Clark scored 19 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and dished 6 assists in Iowa's win over Northwestern
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The last two weeks of Iowa women’s basketball have been spectacular. In that time, the Hawks have defeated three Top-10 teams and won a share of the Big Ten regular season championship in front of a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

The victories also pushed Iowa into the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee’s Top 16 as of Monday of this week—the Hawks were 14th overall, which would be a 4-seed in the Tournament. More importantly, that would mean Iowa would host the first two rounds of NCAA Tournament action at Caver.

Monday’s rankings, however, weren’t final. If Iowa lost in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, it was very possible that other teams could jump them and push them out of the Top 16. So who would Iowa face in that crucial quarterfinal matchup? The answer, unfortunately, was Northwestern.

Stylistically, Northwestern is probably Iowa’s worst matchup in the conference. The Wildcats’ defense consistently forces Iowa into a ton of turnovers, and makes every shot Iowa’s guards take difficult. Northwestern also inexplicably always seems to shoot better than normal on the other end.

That trend held true this year, too. Early in conference play, Northwestern beat Iowa 77-69 in Iowa City. Iowa did manage to take the rematch at Northwestern, but that game went to overtime and Iowa was down by as many as 14 points before making a late comeback. Would Iowa win the rubber match with Northwestern, or would the Wildcats give Iowa another tough loss?

Early on, this game followed the typical recipe. Northwestern hit a couple threes (after going 3/23 from deep in yesterday’s game), and Iowa struggled to score offensively. Northwestern jumped out to a quick 10-4 lead.

Iowa recovered well in the second half of the quarter thanks largely to contributions from Addison O’Grady on both ends of the court. A Monika Czinano jumper in the closing seconds briefly tied the game at 14, before Northwestern hit another open three at the buzzer. Northwestern led 17-14 after the first quarter.

The second quarter was back and forth. Northwestern quickly pushed the lead to six with another three-pointer. Caitlin Clark and the Iowa offense then finally got going and the team went on a run. A Clark three gave Iowa its first lead at 25-24. From there, the two teams matched each other, and Iowa took a narrow 32-31 lead into halftime. At the half Clark had 14, Czinano 12, O’Grady 6, and Iowa’s other players were a combined 0/9 with 0 points.

Early in the third quarter, Kate Martin and Czinano got Iowa’s offense rolling, and Iowa upped the lead to 40-35. Northwestern called timeout, but Gabbie Marshall got a steal and score to push the lead to seven points. The teams were even for most of the rest of the quarter, but a late Iowa run pushed the Hawkeyes’ lead to 57-47 heading to the fourth quarter.

Early in the fourth quarter, Iowa’s defense locked down. The Hawks forced Northwestern into jumpers or contested shots around the basket, and the Wildcats missed… all of them. Even a ton of offensive rebounds didn’t help. Northwestern got its first points of the quarter more than four minutes in, but at that point, Iowa’s lead had ballooned to 16 points. Northwestern had made just one field goal in 10 minutes at that point.

Northwestern finally went on a run and briefly cut Iowa’s lead down to nine points, but the Hawks responded with two straight baskets and the game was effectively over. Iowa closed out a 72-59 victory.

Czinano led Iowa with 21 points and 8 rebounds. Clark scored 19 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, and dished 6 assists. She did have 7 turnovers, but that’s fairly typical against Northwestern, unfortunately. Martin was the final Hawkeye in double figures with 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists. All 15 of those points came in the second half. A box score for the game is here.

Thoughts

That game was fairly ugly for large stretches, but if anything it went better than I expected. As mentioned, Northwestern’s style always gives Iowa fits, yet Iowa did well to score when they wasn’t turning the ball over, and forced Northwestern into tough shots defensively for most of the night.

Aside from playing Northwestern in general my biggest fear in this game was that Iowa would shoot really poorly. Several teams have shot really poorly in the first game of the Big Ten Tournament, and Iowa did so last year against Purdue.

Outside of Clark, that largely happened tonight. McKenna Warnock and Gabbie Marshall especially were off on their shooting. But Czinano dominated in the post, and Martin attacked the basket well in the second half. Hopefully their shooting will be better tomorrow now that they've played a game on the tournament floor.

Next Up

Iowa returns to action in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal tomorrow at 5 PM CT on the Big Ten Network against 6-seed Nebraska. The Huskers just beat 3-seed Michigan in a very close game that went right down to the wire.

Nebraska is 24-7 on the season and went 11-7 in the Big Ten regular season. Iowa defeated Nebraska 95-86 and 93-83 in the regular season. Those wins were back in January, though, and both teams seem to be playing some of their best basketball right now. Hopefully Nebraska will suffer from tired legs, as the Huskers will be playing their third game in three days.

NCAA Tournament Update

As mentioned, Iowa was the Selection Committee’s #14 overall team on Monday. The win over Northwestern likely secures Iowa a Top 16 finish. But can Iowa improve to a 3- (or even a 2-) seed? Let’s dig deeper.

Here is how the relevant teams were seeded by the selection committee on Monday:

#6 Iowa State, #7 LSU, #8 Michigan, #9 UConn, #10 Texas, #11 Arizona, #12 Maryland, #13 Tennessee, #14 Iowa, #15 Indiana, and #16 Oklahoma.

Since Monday the 2- and 3-seeds have basically imploded. Iowa State was blown out by Baylor. LSU was upset in the SEC Tournament by Kentucky (a projected 9-seed). Michigan was upset in the Big Ten Tournament by Nebraska (a projected 6-seed). Arizona was upset in the PAC 12 tournament by Colorado (a projected - seed). And Maryland lost in the Big Ten Tournament to Indiana.

 What does all of that mean for Iowa? Here are the four remaining scenarios:

Iowa loses to Nebraska: This is pretty simple. Iowa will likely remain as 4 seed. Nebraska wouldn’t be a bad loss, but the Northwestern win alone wouldn’t improve Iowa’s resume enough to move up a seed line.

Iowa wins the Big Ten Tournament: In this scenario I can safely say Iowa would be a 3-seed at worst. Two additional wins would be a big boost to Iowa’s resume, and would see them jump several of the teams that have already lost. I also think a 2-seed would be possible, though Iowa would need some help. That starts with Texas and Iowa State losing early in the Big 12 Tournament and Tennessee not winning the SEC Tournament. A UConn loss in the Big East Tournament would also help, though I’m not sure it’s required. From there it really depends on whether the Committee would prefer Iowa’s resume as Big Ten Champion to Iowa State, LSU, and UConn.

Iowa beats Nebraska then loses to Indiana: This is tough. Iowa would likely need to jump Arizona, Maryland, and Tennessee in order to get a 3-seed, because Indiana would also likely jump Iowa with this result. Are wins over Nebraska and Northwestern enough to jump all three of those teams? I’m not sure. My inclination is no.

Iowa beats Nebraska then loses to Ohio State: This scenario is better for Iowa because Iowa would likely stay ahead of Indiana. Then they would only need to jump two of Arizona, Maryland, and Tennessee. I think that is more likely, though we won’t know for sure until the Selection Show.

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