Iowa women's basketball rallies for second top-10 win over Indiana in three days

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — As much as the Hawkeyes would've loved Monday to be an exact replication of Saturday plus some home help, sports don't usually unfold that predictably. In reality, the second Iowa-Indiana matchup in barely 48 hours took a much different path than the first.

The Hoosiers offense delivered a much crisper showing to start, and didn't wait until the final quarter to show up. The Hawkeyes attack, meanwhile, didn't flow as smoothly amid several turnover-heavy stretches. After spending much of Saturday with a double-digit cushion, Iowa was the one chasing in the rematch. 

But as different as the process was, the end result finished all the same. 

A riveting fourth quarter carried the No. 21 Hawkeyes to their second top-10 win in three days over No. 10 Indiana, as Iowa clawed back for an 88-82 victory in front of a raucous Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd. A run through the Big Ten marred by frustration and inconsistency has totally different vibes now for the surging Hawkeyes (18-7, 12-4 Big Ten Conference). Big lifts to their NCAA Tournament resume and league positioning arrived with this monumental season sweep. 

"We knew we weren't out of it by any means," sophomore star Caitlin Clark said.  

In a rare script flip, it was Clark who took a bit of a scoring backseat down the stretch. One day after announcing she'll be returning for a fifth season next year, Monika Czinano buoyed the Iowa rally with 13 of her game-high 31 points arriving in the fourth quarter. She ripped off seven straight for a 72-70 Iowa advantage with 5:14 remaining, giving the Hawkeyes the lead for good. It was the first time the Hawkeyes led since midway through the second quarter.

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) celebrates heading into a timeout with teammates Iowa's McKenna Warnock (14) and Iowa's Addison O'Grady (44) during a NCAA Big Ten Conference women's basketball game against Indiana, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

More action at the rim extended Iowa's lead to six with just over four minutes to play. The Hawkeyes finally had some room to work with as Indiana melted down. Iowa held the Hoosiers without a field goal for nearly six minutes in the fourth. Ample efforts via Czinano and Clark were aided by McKenna Warnock's 16 points in her second game back from a lengthy hand injury.       

"We were just due for one of these games to kind of go our way," Czinano said. "Even looking back to last year, and this year, we've had a lot of close games that've kind of slipped through our fingers. This was huge — kind of a turning point for us." 

Part of the reason for that is what Iowa hurdled in snatching this one away.

Indiana first found separation late in the second quarter, turning the Hawkeyes over multiple times to prevent any sort of Iowa rhythm. The Hoosiers held Iowa without a field goal over the first half's final 6:43 — the Hawkeyes' only points during that timeframe coming on five free throws. Indiana countered with a methodical 14-0 run that featured five layups and transformed a two-point deficit into a 48-36 lead.   

The Hawkeyes had eight turnovers in the second quarter, including four in 70 seconds. During several moments in the second half, it looked as if Indiana's advantage gained right before the break was going to hold up all the way through. Correcting the offensive sloppiness was Iowa's primary key to a comeback.

"We ran our offense late. We weren't trying to force things," said Clark, who still finished with 29 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. "When we were forcing things in the first half, that's what was leading to our turnovers. Going one-on-one, trying to make passes that we shouldn't have made.

"If we were going to win the game, we had to change the turnover part of it — me especially. All seven of my turnovers came in the first half, which is pretty not acceptable. But that was a huge part of it, and just running our offense was the biggest change that led to less turnovers."             

The Hawkeyes only coughed the ball up twice in the fourth quarter, after turning it over 19 times through the first three. A much better close punctuated this Indiana victory and allows for lofty visions up ahead. 

Iowa players, from left, Gabbie Marshall, Monika Czinano, Kate Martin, Caitlin Clark and McKenna Warnock celebrate with teammates after a NCAA Big Ten Conference women's basketball game against Indiana, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

If the Hawkeyes win their final two regular-season games — Thursday at Rutgers, Sunday versus No. 6 Michigan — Iowa will finish no worse than tied for first atop the Big Ten standings. Pair those results with an Ohio State loss either Thursday versus Penn State or Sunday at Michigan State, and Iowa will win the Big Ten regular season outright. 

Perhaps more importantly is this three-day stretch drastically improves Iowa's chances of hosting first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games. The Hawkeyes will still need strong showings this week, plus a decent performance in the conference tournament, but that discussion has gained substantial life in a matter of days.      

Efforts similar to the Indiana showings could make those talks reality in the coming weeks.         

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.