Iowa women's basketball finds enough offensive stability, fights past Northwestern in Big Ten Tournament
INDIANAPOLIS — Iowa's goal was never to mold an offensive masterpiece against Northwestern, more so just paint a passable picture that emulated March basketball's favorite mantra. Simply put, the Hawkeyes needed a victory no matter how it arrived.
It took a minute for Iowa to get re-adjusted to the Wildcats' defense, but the Hawkeyes settled in much better as the game moved along. Separation found in the third quarter paired with a strong fourth, as second-seeded Iowa closed out No. 7 seed Northwestern for a 72-59 win in Friday's Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
The effort extends the Hawkeyes' Indianapolis stay to Saturday, where they'll face either No. 3 seed Michigan or No. 6 seed Nebraska in the semifinals at 5 p.m. Iowa (21-7) is now one win away from reaching its third Big Ten Tournament title game in the last four seasons.
"We knew shots were going to start going down," said sophomore Caitlin Clark, who finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and four assists short of another triple double. "It really was contributions from every part of our team."
With a victory Friday likely clinching a hosting spot for the NCAA Tournament, Iowa charged headfirst into the "Blizzard" with confidence it had solved Northwestern's tricky defense enough to avoid a costly loss. While Iowa's superstars controlled the action initially, contributors were aplenty in giving the Hawkeyes substantial cushion.
Iowa made its move first with the services of Kate Martin, who racked up nine points of her 15, two assists and one steal in the momentum-snatching third quarter. Her defensive tenacity and offensive grittiness gave Iowa an energetic lift, first propelling the Hawkeyes on an 8-0 run that put them up seven. Another 5-0 Iowa spurt late in the third quarter handed Iowa its first double-digit lead at 57-46.
"Kate's always been our glue, and people overlook her," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "She holds this team together. She's our captain. She's our leader. She's somebody we look to, and I'm really proud of Kate and what she brings to our team."
Martin's boost spilled into the fourth, where the Hawkeyes scored the first six points to gain control and allow for some minor stumbling late. Northwestern trimmed a 17-point deficit down to nine before the Hawkeyes successfully regrouped.
"Northwestern does a really good job of making us work our offense. Our style is playing really fast-paced, trying to get everything in transition and then setting it up. It is a challenge, and their defense is unlike any other team you see in the Big Ten," said Monika Czinano, who led the Hawkeyes with 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting. "Every time we have to go against them, it's an adjustment to the scout and something new. It is challenging to go up against them."
It was apparent early on this matchup would be just as grueling for Iowa as the first two. Iowa's first half made it 10 consecutive quarters the Hawkeyes have failed to score more than 20 points against the Wildcats this season. Analyzing Iowa's early offense really boiled down to three outcomes.
Either Clark hit from deep; Czinano fought through contact and corralled tough entry passes for easy layups; or the Hawkeyes turned it over. Iowa's two all-Big Ten first teamers combined for 26 of Iowa's 32 first-half points to keep the Hawkeyes afloat. That was pivotal as Iowa needed more time to put its whole offense together.
"Northwestern's different defense that they play, it really clogs up the middle," Bluder said. "They do a good job with that. But Caitlin has been getting double-teamed all year long, lots of help, so it's nothing unusual. And I'm really glad she calmed down.
"She made some turnovers in the first half that we obviously didn't need her to make. She cleaned it up and had some huge threes that kept us going in the first half. And then in the second half, she just decided to distribute and rebound the ball. She doesn't always only have to be a scorer."
Iowa has probably had enough with the Blizzard for now. The Hawkeyes escaped this storm without a ton of damage.
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 email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.