It all came down to this. After wins over Northwestern and Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament, Iowa should be at worst a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament. A 2-seed might still be possible with a win over Indiana and some help, but that is far from certain.
Today’s game, then, was more about the glory. No Iowa team has won both the regular season Big Ten Championship and the Big Ten Tournament. Caitlin Clark came to Iowa with the goal of taking the program to new heights and here was her first big opportunity.
Standing in the way of her and the Hawkeyes was a scrappy Indiana team. The Hoosiers’ run this week has been fairly remarkable. After a tough end to the regular season, many were counting them out. Instead, they responded with victories over two of the conference’s best teams in Maryland and Ohio State. And they’ve done it all with a rotation of basically six players. One of those players was even sick in the semifinal yesterday, and played just a fraction of her usual minutes.
Could Iowa complete the season sweep of Indiana and stake its claim as the conference’s undisputed best team, or would the Hoosiers complete their Big Ten Tournament run?
The game started much like yesterday’s semifinal for Iowa. Indiana was getting to the basket regularly, and took a 10-7 lead at the first media timeout as a result. Iowa’s defensive intensity picked up in the second half of the quarter, and that translated to better offense, too. A Kate Martin three briefly gave Iowa a 4-point lead in the waning seconds of the quarter, before Indiana hit a jumper just before the buzzer. Iowa led 18-16 after the first quarter. Monika Czinano had 10 points in the quarter.
The beginning of the second quarter was back and forth. Both teams made shots early, then went cold in the next few minutes. Iowa led narrowly 27-26. Iowa made a few shots out of the media timeout and quickly extended its lead to seven points. It stayed around seven points until the final minute, when Indiana went on a 5-0 run to cut Iowa’s halftime lead to two points at 35-33. Czinano again played well in the quarter and had 16 points at the half.
Indiana came out of halftime making almost everything, and quickly jumped out to a 40-35 lead. Iowa rallied right back and took a 43-42 lead. The two teams battled back and forth from there, and Iowa led 51-48 after three.
Iowa came out quickly in the fourth quarter and built its lead to seven points at 55-48. Indiana again came right back and trimmed the lead to 55-52. From there the two teams battled back and forth like they had all game. Iowa pushed its lead as high as seven points thanks to great offense from Czinano and Kate Martin. Indiana seemingly always had an answer, though. With 3:41 to play, Indiana called timeout after a basket with Iowa leading 68-63.
After the timeout, both teams missed shots. Iowa then found Czinano open in the post again, and she converted to put Iowa up 70-63. Iowa got another stop, but on the inbound play McKenna Warnock was called for an offensive foul on a play where the Indiana player clearly flopped. The Hoosiers then hit a three to cut Iowa's lead to 70-66.
On the other end, Iowa turned it over and Clark got called for a… questionable foul. But Indiana missed an open three on the other end. Iowa tried to find Czinano down low on the next possession, but she was fouled (fouling out Indiana’s best player, Grace Berger). Czinano went 1/2 at the line and Iowa led 71-66. Iowa got another stop on the next possession thanks to a Clark block, giving Iowa the ball and a five-point lead with 29.6 seconds to play.
Iowa got the ball to Clark on the inbound, and Clark managed to drain nine seconds before Martin was fouled. She also went 1/2 from the line, and Iowa’s lead was 72-66 with 20 seconds left. Indiana got fouled with 14.8 left and hit the first free throw before missing the second. Indiana got the rebound, but Warnock took the ball away before they could do anything with it. Warnock was fouled on the next inbounds play and went 2/2 to push Iowa’s lead to 74-67. Indiana missed on its next three-pointer, and the game was finally—mercifully—over. Iowa had outlasted Indiana for a third-straight game to win and was the undisputed Big Ten Champion.
Monika Czinano led Iowa with 30 points and 10 rebounds on 13-18 shooting. You can’t overstate how superb she was in this game. Indiana had no answer for her. Caitlin Clark had 18 points and 7 rebounds. She didn’t shoot well from three-point range in the game, but did well to defer to her teammates late when Indiana was working hard to take her away. She also got a huge block late to get a stop and prevent Indiana from coming back.
And finally, how about Kate Martin? The captain had 14 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 blocks in the game. She also hit some tough shots in the final few minutes to keep Indiana from making one last run. Kate has struggled at times this year, but is playing the best basketball of her career in the biggest games of her career. A box score for the game is here.
Coming into the season, many projected Iowa as a Top 10 team. For most of the season, many of those same people wrote Iowa off. The Hawks struggled in the non-conference portion of the schedule, lost a tough game to Northwestern early in conference play, and then lost close games to Ohio State and Maryland once the schedule got tough again.
No one is questioning this Iowa team now. Iowa’s run in the last two weeks of the regular season to win a share of the Big Ten Title (by beating Indiana twice in 48 hours and Michigan in a sold-out winner-take-all finale) was incredible. Then the Hawks took care of business with big wins over Northwestern and Nebraska, and outlasted Indiana again to claim the Big Ten Tournament title.
Now the Hawks look like they have taken an extra step. They look like a team that can compete for an Elite Eight or even a Final Four. Let’s hope this momentum carries over to the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa will next return to action in the NCAA Tournament on either March 18th or 19th depending on how the brackets shake out. Iowa’s first round (and hopefully second round) game will be in Iowa City given that the Hawks will be a Top-4 seed and Top-4 seeds in the women's NCAA Tournament serve as the host site for games in the first two rounds. The NCAA Tournament Selection show will be next Sunday, March 13 at 7 PM CT on ESPN.
NCAA Tournament Update
Iowa has now certainly locked up at worst a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Hawks should be at worst the 10th overall team, as they have likely passed Arizona, Maryland, Tennessee, and Michigan since the Selection Committee’s last reveal.
I also think a 2-seed is still potentially on the table. LSU bombed out of the SEC Tournament in its first game (though the Kentucky team it lost to went on to win the tournament by shocking #1 South Carolina). It seems at least possible that Iowa could jump LSU.
Three other teams that Iowa could still possibly jump are still playing. UConn is in the Big East Tournament final, and would need to lose that game for Iowa to pass it.
Iowa State and Texas will both play in the Big 12 Tournament this coming week. The Cyclones were #6 and the Longhorns #10 in the Selection Committee’s reveal on Monday. Since, Texas has won twice, though neither win was likely to substantially improve its resume. Iowa State, meanwhile, got blown out by Baylor, then won comfortably over a non-tournament team.
If either Iowa State or Texas lose their first Big 12 Tournament game, Iowa might have a chance to jump them. If Texas loses in its semifinal game, it is also possible Iowa could jump the Longhorns, though that seems less likely.
For now, though, let’s put talk of the NCAA Tournament aside. There’s celebrating to do. Let’s dance!