Iowa women's basketball grinds past Indiana to clinch Big Ten Tournament title
INDIANAPOLIS — Familiarity flowed from every angle of Sunday's Big Ten Tournament title game, which served as the third Iowa-Indiana clash in the last 16 days. The action, often tight, intense and hard to dictate, was a fitting conclusion to this mini series that's developed in the last two weeks.
No need for introductions. No need for secrecy. Run your stuff and let the best execution prevail.
The Hawkeyes completed the sweep, and snagged a trophy in the process.
Iowa gutted its way to a second Big Ten Tournament title in the last four years, upending Indiana, 74-67, in Sunday's championship game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. With the Hawkeyes (23-7) set to host NCAA Tournament games as a result, this weekend again served as the perfect lead in for bigger goals up ahead.
"When you get to do what you love to do where you want to do it, with the people you want to be around, it's just the most amazing feeling," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "I'm thankful for these women. I'm thankful for the support we get all the time."
It wasn't until the final frame that Iowa grabbed its largest lead and finally found a bit of comfort after 3½ grueling quarters. The Hawkeyes pushed their lead to seven three different times early in the fourth quarter, eventually breaking through a bit against an Indiana defense that made possessions difficult.
There wasn't one monumental bucket or a backbreaking surge, like Iowa had early in Assembly Hall and late at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The clinching combination was just a steady stream of Iowa offense that wears so many foes down over time.
"If you do know our play calls, that's how it's kind of going to be for anybody. But You can still run and execute your plays," said Iowa guard Caitlin Clark, who had 18 points and was named the Big Ten Tournament's most outstanding player. "I think at the end of the day, that's still what we do no matter what.
"This was a gritty win. Every game that we've played them has kind of been different in a way. We obviously got up huge at their place, then we were down at our place. Then here, it was just back and forth. But obviously, a very gritty win for us, especially in the fourth quarter. Once we got that lead and stretched it out to six or seven, they couldn't quite get over the hump."
While Clark and Monika Czinano carried the Hawkeyes for much of the weekend just as they have all season, one pivotal stretch came without any scoring help from No. 22 or No. 25. The Hawkeyes put up six straight — a McKenna Warnock layup and four of Kate Martin's 14 points on back-to-back buckets — to grab a 68-61 lead with four minutes remaining.
That put the pressure on Indiana to navigate winning time with flawless execution. The Hoosiers nipped at Iowa's heels, climbing within four on a Nicole Cardano-Hillary trey with 2:21 to go, but Iowa finished things out at the line to avoid a collapse.
Reaching that point required a steady dose of Czinano, who took Clark's normal headliner spot in buoying the Iowa attack. The all-Big Ten center, who's been Iowa's leading scorer in all three Indiana matchups, poured in 30 points and 10 rebounds Sunday afternoon.
"We all really knew personnel going into it, said Czinano, who was elected to the all Big Ten Tournament team alongside Clark. "We didn't really have to touch on it much. There were a couple new play calls put in on both sides, but for the most part, we all knew everything. It just came down to who was going to execute what better."
Entry touches that required precision passing found Czinano's hands and were quickly put through the net. Some buckets arrived quite easier than that. It was almost an even split — 16 points in the first half, 14 in the second — as Indiana had few answers throughout.
Even in facing the No. 7, No. 6 and No. 5 seeds this weekend in Indianapolis, the Hawkeyes hardly had an easy route to this hardware. Sunday's win, coupled with the Big Ten regular-season title acquired last weekend, accentuates Iowa's climb back to the level it hoped to be operating at this postseason.
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.