No. 21 Iowa women's basketball stumbles in home loss to Northwestern

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — With little recent action on both sides, predicting how Thursday's Iowa-Northwestern showdown would go became a harder task than usual.

Fitting that 40 seesawing minutes unfolded at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. 

A game Iowa looked in control of throughout the first half and looked out of at times in the fourth quarter finished with plenty of tense basketball in the waning moments. The chance for a productive Big Ten Conference reset was within Iowa's grasp. But the No. 21 Hawkeyes couldn't muster enough during winning time, resulting in a 77-69 loss to Northwestern that once again saw Iowa sputter offensively. 

"This is obviously a tough loss," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "You're on your home court in the Big Ten and going against a kind of younger team. We just didn't perform well in the second half." 

Iowa center Monika Czinano, left, pulls down a rebound against Northwestern forward Courtney Shaw (15) during a NCAA Big Ten Conference women's basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

The Wildcats (10-3, 2-0 Big Ten) entered Thursday with zero action since Dec. 17. Iowa (7-4, 1-1) had played just once in the past two weeks.

Despite losing the lead for good midway through the third quarter, the Hawkeyes had chances to regain control as the final quarter closed. A 7-0 Iowa run pulled the Hawkeyes even, 66-66, with 2:54 remaining, setting up for a riveting home finish. But it never came. Iowa didn't hit another field goal until Caitlin Clark's and-1 layup with 17 seconds left. The Wildcats delivered a methodical 10-0 run in the meantime.

Much too late for a rally.

The Hawkeyes began this week confident they had an answer for Northwestern's famed matchup zone, better known as the blizzard. Iowa's stars got theirs — 30 points from Clark, another 20 from Monika Czinano — but Northwestern's defense tightened down the stretch. Iowa had just five field goals and got only 3 points from Clark in the fourth quarter.        

Just as concerning are the Hawkeyes' continual 3-point woes. Iowa finished 6-for-26 from downtown, marking the 10th time in 11 games Iowa's failed to reach double-figure treys. The deep threat that's been there throughout Bluder's Iowa tenure just hasn't shown up yet this season.

"It is frustrating," Bluder said. "I really thought moving the 3-point line back this year wouldn't bother us. I just really didn't think it was going to bother us at all. But it seems to have bothered us. We're just not shooting the ball as well as we're capable of shooting it. The only thing you can do is keep working on it in practice and build confidence in the gym."   

It seemed like this night could trend Iowa's way with the return of Czinano and McKenna Warnock, who missed Sunday's Evansville win while in COVID protocols and were questionable for Thursday. Both returned with solid outings. Czinano added six rebounds and two assists to her 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting, while Warnock added 14 points with four treys. 

Elsewhere, though, consistent offense was hard to find, especially detrimental with Veronica Burton (25 points) and Melannie Daley (22) connecting on the other end. Perhaps that is what's most concerning during this Hawkeye lull. Iowa's scoring attack just hasn't look as potent as what's come to be expected. 

Iowa will look to get right Sunday at Nebraska.     

"That's really something we've been lacking this season, just an overall sense of consistency," Czinano said. "But we're not the only team in the country that is going through that. We're just going to have to rise above it."

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 msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.