IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Hawkeye past dominated pregame festivities, as Iowa welcomed Hannah Stewart and Tania Davis back to receive their Big Ten Tournament title rings. Davis likely set the record for most hugs by a visiting graduate manager. Stewart proudly bellowed about her Australia playing experience when given the mic.
Then, it came time for Iowa’s present to showcase its latest product after a productive Caribbean trip. The Hawkeyes looked much improved from their last Carver-Hawkeye Arena showing.
A near wire-to-wire win arrived Wednesday, as Iowa kept Clemson at arm’s length minutes after the opening tip. The 74-60 win gave the Hawkeyes (6-2) their first Big Ten/ACC Challenge victory since 2015.
"We wanted to represent the Big Ten well," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "We wanted to get this win in the Challenge. We thought we had a good opportunity."
Aside from one Clemson spurt in the third quarter, Iowa owned this one in winning time. The Hawkeyes transformed a modest 39-34 halftime lead into a double-digit advantage early in the fourth. Clemson (3-6) didn’t climb within single figures over the final five minutes.
Iowa got double-digit efforts from Monika Czinano (24 points), Kathleen Doyle (14) and Amanda Ollinger, who all helped the Hawkeyes shoot nearly 50 percent from the field. Iowa owned the paint and offset 16 turnovers with 28 assists.
Clemson isn’t great — but any Power Five win is worth relishing with the season still relatively young. With the Hawkeyes back home for the first time in two weeks, consider Wednesday another positive step for this growing group.
Here's what we learned.
Iowa's progress showed on a night where the guards didn't do the heavy lifting.
On a night where Doyle didn’t reach double figures until late and Iowa got little help from veteran guards Makenzie Meyer and Alexis Sevillian (nine combined points on 3-for-18 shooting), it was a solid sign to see Czinano and Ollinger carry the scoring workload.
Especially Czinano, who went 11-for-15 from the field for her highest-scoring performance this season.
"She works really hard," Doyle said. "What you see in the game is what you see in practice every day. She's earning everything she's getting during the games. She just does her work early and it makes her life easier when she does that."
The Hawkeyes cashed in their recent experience against zone.
Just as the Iowa men did Tuesday night at Syracuse in the men’s counterpart of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, Bluder’s Hawkeyes were able to conquer a tough zone defense. Iowa found holes in Clemson’s 2-3 attack, punishing the Tigers down low with a bevy of easy baskets.
The biggest beneficiaries were Czinano and Ollinger, who both had double figures in the same game for just the second time this year. They propelled the Hawkeyes to a 40-22 paint scoring advantage.
"A lot of times when the ball got inside, it was because the guards had some amazing passes," Czinano said. "There were some passes behind the back of the defender, some bullets that were high basketball IQ passes. So I think the guards just did a really good job of finding the posts throughout the entire game."
Iowa at least shot OK over the zone, as well. The final downtown numbers weren’t sterling — 9-for-25 — but the Hawkeyes hit enough threes early to keep the threat prevalent. Five different players hit from deep in the opening quarter, including three treys in the first three minutes.
The Hawkeyes saw plenty of zone in Puerto Rico, and their experience with it paid off Wednesday night. Point to that as why Iowa delivered another passable offensive outing.
"We can get the ball inside against a zone, and we learned our lesson against Washington," Bluder said. "We still took a lot of threes tonight, and I'm OK with that, but I also want to be able to get the ball inside. We did a much better job of that tonight."
Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.