(2) Iowa 98, (15) Illinois State 58: On to Round Two

By BraydonRoberts5 on March 18, 2022 at 9:56 pm
Iowa rolled to a 98-58 victory over Illinois State in the NCAA Tournament
IowaWBB/Twitter
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When Iowa stepped onto the court to play Illinois State, it had been 12 days since its Big Ten Tournament victory over Indiana. On the one hand, the long layoff was a good thing. It gave the Hawkeyes time to rest and to celebrate their Big Ten Tournament and regular season championships.

On the other hand, the long break could’ve been a bad thing. Iowa was one of the hottest teams in the country in the last few weeks of the season. But long breaks (for Covid and other reasons) have disrupted Iowa’s season several times. And in March, no team is safe.

Iowa fans learned that lesson all too well against Richmond yesterday. So did 2-seed Kentucky. Would Iowa maintain its momentum and take care of business as the heavy favorite, or would Illinois State have the Hawks on upset alert?

Early in the first quarter, Iowa certainly looked rusty. The Hawkeyes missed their first several three-pointers, and Illinois State made a couple to take the lead. Finally Iowa’s shots started to drop, and the Hawks went on a run and retook the lead. By the end of the quarter, it was 21-15 Iowa, and momentum had shifted in Iowa’s favor.

Early in the second quarter, Iowa pushed the lead to 12 and Carver was rocking. But then Iowa got sloppy on offense and turned the ball over a few times. Illinois State took advantage, and cut Iowa’s lead to seven points. But Iowa’s offense responded with another run, and pushed the lead to 43-29 at halftime.

Early in the third quarter, Iowa switched to a triangle-and-two defense that keyed in on Illinois State’s two best shooters. The move worked, and Iowa’s defensive effort helped push the lead over 20 points. From there, the Hawkeyes went into cruise control. They led 74-47 after three, and won 98-58.

 Caitlin Clark led Iowa with 27 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, and went a perfect 7/7 from the line. She didn’t shoot particularly well from three-point range, but that was basically the only place she wasn’t great. Monika Czinano had 18 points and 7 rebounds and went 6/6 from both the floor and the line. Most of the game, Illinois State was doubling her before Iowa could even attempt an entry pass.

Gabbie Marshall had 13 points on 3/6 shooting from three. She was one of the beneficiaries of that double-team on Czinano, as she had plenty of time and space to shoot. Tomi Taiwo was another, as she had 13 points on 3-of-4 shooting from long range in just 18 minutes of play. A box score for the game is here.

Thoughts

Iowa certainly looked rusty for a bit, but the Hawks figured things out fairly quickly and got on a roll from there. It was nice to see Iowa have a comfortable victory after playing in big games, close games, or big and close games for the last month and a half.

One of the takeaways I saw after this game is that Iowa has to get Monika Czinano more touches. While Czinano has been excellent in Iowa’s stretch run, that’s easier said than done. Illinois State’s defensive plan was to not let Czinano catch the ball. They had a forward backing her and a guard fronting her for large stretches of the game. There’s not much you can do to get her the ball when there are two defenders sandwiching her.

But when a defense has to commit that many resources to the post, it means that a shooter has to be open. Today Marshall and Taiwo made Illinois State pay by combining for six made three-pointers. But one area of concern is that McKenna Warnock didn’t. Warnock struggled with her shooting for much of the Big Ten Tournament and struggled again today, too. At her best, Warnock is Iowa’s best third scoring option and a lethal shooter. The Hawkeyes will need her to get back to her usual self if they want to advance deep into the tournament.

Next Up

Iowa returns to action on Sunday against 10-seed Creighton. The Bluejays beat Colorado 84-74 in the first game in Iowa City today. You can read more about Creighton in my tournament preview, but I watched the Creighton-Colorado game and have some additional thoughts.

Creighton is a very well-balanced offensive team. They don’t have a big post threat like Czinano, but their entire roster shoots well and can attack the basket off the dribble. That said, none of Creighton’s players are extremely athletic. If Iowa’s defenders lock in, they might be able to stop some of that dribble penetration. Creighton getting hot from three is probably the bigger concern.

Defensively, Creighton seems vulnerable. Colorado was getting great post-up looks in the paint fairly frequently, and none of its players are nearly the post threat that Czinano is. Colorado’s point guard also beat Creighton’s defense off the dribble regularly in this one, and she’s not nearly the ball handler that Clark is. If Clark looks to attack early, it should pay dividends.

As of this writing, the start time and television network for Sunday’s game had not been announced. After the game, though, Iowa did announce that Sunday would be another sellout, so the environment should be great. Let’s hope the Hawks feed off the crowd and advance to another Sweet 16.

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