(10) Creighton 64, (2) Iowa 62: March Sadness

By BraydonRoberts5 on March 20, 2022 at 6:18 pm
Monika Czinano scored 27 points, but they weren't enough to avoid an upset loss to Creighton

A double-digit seed punching above its weight? A good shooting Iowa team picking the worst possible time to have its worst shooting day of the season? I saw that recipe (checks notes) three days ago. Oh, the life of an Iowa sports fan.

Iowa’s second round NCAA Tournament game against Creighton started off at a torrid pace. Both teams were playing about as fast as they could, and the vast majority of their shots were falling. Creighton led 17-15 early, but it was anyone’s game.

Then in the last few minutes of the quarter, Iowa’s offense went cold. The Hawks were driving to the basket, but Creighton was contesting every shot, often with contact. In what would become a theme of the game, the referees mostly let them play on. Unless the contact was hard enough that you would consider calling the police had it happened in public, the referees weren’t blowing their whistles.

Iowa fans throughout the game were mad at that, and on the one hand, it’s right to be mad. Physical games make injuries more likely. When players get hit while in the air, they often fall with little ability to control their bodies.

On the other hand, the referees were consistent in not calling the contact. The team in blue adjusted to it. The team in gold kept complaining and let it impact their play.

Creighton used Iowa’s cold spell to jump out to a 23-17 first quarter lead. Iowa’s cold stretch continued into the second quarter, and the Bluejays soon led by 12. Iowa’s players not named Clark and Czinano started 0/12 from the floor. Finally they hit a few baskets in the waning minutes of the half, and Iowa went on a mini-run, but Creighton still led 38-32 at halftime.

In the early third quarter, Iowa quickly ate into Creighton’s lead. The Hawkeyes had numerous offensive possessions where the Bluejay lead was three points or fewer. But Iowa could never hit that one big shot that would tie the game or get a lead. All told, Creighton led 51-48 after three quarters.

In the fourth quarter, Creighton kept doing just enough to keep the lead. Until it didn’t. Gabbie Marshall hit a big three in the middle of the quarter to pull Iowa within one point. Iowa got a stop, and Marshall buried another 3, and suddenly Iowa led 56-54. After another stop and a Czinano basket, Iowa led 58-54, and Carver was as loud as it had ever been.

The Bluejays called timeout and looked like they was on the ropes. One good shot, and Iowa would have its knockout.

Unfortunately, the knockout never came. Iowa had multiple shots to push the lead above four points, but couldn’t hit on any of them. One possession with just under a minute to go stands out. The Hawks were up two points with the ball after getting a stop. But instead of getting the ball to Clark or Czinano, the offense stalled. Kate Martin was forced to throw up a three-pointer to avoid a shot clock violation, and it predictably missed.

Creighton had the ball with the shot clock off, down two points, and needed a hero. Enter Lauren Jensen.

Jensen began her college career at Iowa just last year. She played some in the first half of the season, but struggled to see the floor in the latter half. With most of Iowa’s players returning and with Kylie Feuerbach transferring in, Jensen saw the writing on the wall and opted to transfer to Creighton. Pessimistic Iowa fans know where this is going.

Due to a defensive miscue, Jensen got the ball back on a pass wide open at the top of the three-point arc. She took the shot and absolutely buried it. Just like that, Iowa’s 2-point lead was gone. Creighton led 63-62.

Lauren Jensen

I’m interrupting this recap to say good for Lauren Jensen.

My best memory of Jensen actually came before her career started at Iowa. I was reading a Jeff Linder column about Iowa recruit Sharon Goodman’s mom passing away, when I learned that Jensen and current Hawkeye Shateah Wetering both traveled several hours to attend the funeral and be there for their future teammate.

I remember being struck by the empathy and character that Jensen and Wetering showed that day. As a teenage you shouldn’t need to know how to comfort a friend who just lost a parent. You could just as easily send them a message of support and leave them be. But Jensen and Wetering took it upon themselves to do more than that. And they should be remembered for it.

I know some people get mad at college kids when they decide to transfer like Jensen did. They think that they should stay and fight for a spot, even if they’re unlikely to get it.

I disagree. Jensen left in the hopes of finding a bigger role at another school. She found just that at a very good Creighton program and quickly became one of its leading scorers.

Today in the game’s final few minutes, she took the biggest shot of her life on at least three different occasions. She hit every single one of them. Good for Lauren Jensen.

The End

History will remember Jensen’s shot, but it didn’t actually end the game. Iowa got the ball in its own half after a timeout and dialed up a look for Caitlin Clark to attack the basket. Clark did just that, but as expected, she was met at the basket by a Creighton defender.

Contact was made. No whistle was blown. Clark forced up the shot anyway, but unfortunately it rimmed out and into the hands of a Creighton defender.

Even then, the game wasn’t done. After a series of fouls, Creighton went to the line and hit one of two free throws. Iowa called timeout, and got the ball in its own end again. This time, Iowa cleared the lane and lobbed a pass in for Czinano in the paint. Again there was contact. Again Czinano managed to get the shot up anyway. As with Clark, the shot rimmed out. McKenna Warnock was there for a rebound, but her shot rolled off. Kate Martin had the final chance to save Iowa’s season, but she too was unable to make the shot in close. The clock finally hit zero and Creighton had secured one of the bigger upsets in NCAA Tournament history.

Czinano led Iowa with 27 points and 6 rebounds on 12/20 shooting. She still shot well despite being hit inside more than she had all season.  

Caitlin Clark struggled today. She did have 15 points, 11 assists, and 8 rebounds, but went just 4-19 from the floor, including 0/8 in the second half. Sometimes even Wonder Woman is only Diana Prince.

Unfortunately, Clark’s struggles were matched by Iowa’s six other players. Today players not named Clark or Czinano combined to take 31 shots for Iowa. They made just nine of them, good for 29%. A box score for the game is here.  

College Sports Fans

It’s strange being a college sports fan, isn’t it? We form emotional attachments to 18–22-year-olds, most or all of whom we haven’t met. Yet somehow the success of those young strangers has the power to give us highs that can last for days.

Unfortunately, their failures can also give us nightmares that last a lifetime.

Ask any Iowa men’s basketball fan about Northwestern State, and just watch them deflate. Or ask an Iowa football fan about L.J. Scott. Or any of the other countless heartbreaks we’ve experienced as Iowa fans, no matter the age.

But as bad as those memories are, I promise you the players and coaches take them far worse. As fans, we'll wake up tomorrow and go on about our lives. For the players, these moments are their lives. Tomi Taiwo and Logan Cook saw their Iowa careers end today. Some people will try to use this loss to say that Caitlin Clark isn’t the transcendent talent we all know her to be.

I urge anyone reading this not to try to make the players and coaches feel any worse about this than they already do. We’ve all read about the messages athletes get after a tough loss. We’ve all read stories about college athletes who have committed suicide. Yet some people still feel the need to send terrible messages as if the players don’t feel bad already. Don’t be part of this problem. Call out anyone who is.

Finding a Bright Side

Maybe the only good thing about this loss is that for most of Iowa’s players, this isn’t the end of the road. All of Iowa’s starting lineup should be back next season. Most of the role players should be too. And Iowa has a good recruiting class coming in.

After the pain of today’s loss fades, Iowa’s players will reflect on the game itself. All of Iowa’s flaws as a team shown through today. Struggles defensively. Rebounding issues. And an over-reliance on Clark and Czinano to be great.

Last off-season the players were coming off a season where they exceeded expectations. They vowed to improve their defense and did so. It wasn’t always pretty, but it did improve. How will they respond after a brutal loss?

My bet is they will use it as motivation. If they want to reach the goals they set for themselves, they have to get better. They have to ask tough questions and commit to improving their weaknesses.

When the Caitlin Clark Experience returns to Iowa City next season, my bet is we see an improved team that is hungrier than ever. One that will do its damndest to never let something like today happen again.

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