Iowa routinely scrimmages Creighton in the preseason. Now, they'll battle to reach the Sweet 16

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — They usually meet in secrecy for a scrimmage some time during late fall, right around when everyone needs a preseason switch-up from practicing against themselves. However, this Iowa-Creighton collision will look much different. 

No closed doors on this one. 

With a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena and a national television audience intently watching, these two preseason scrimmage partners will meet at noon Sunday for a spot in the Sweet 16. It's the second time since 2018 Iowa and Creighton have met in the NCAA Tournament, but Sunday's matchup will feature a level of intensity these two have never reached against each other. 

"Neither one of us have too many secrets really," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said, "and I know they're going to be well-prepared. I know they're going to play their hearts out. So it's going to be a great women's basketball game with a lot on the line."

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Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder will coach her team Sunday against Creighton for a chance to go to the Sweet 16.

Perhaps no one in women's basketball overlaps more with the No. 2 seed Hawkeyes than the 10th-seeded Bluejays, which reached the second round with Friday's 84-74 win over No. 7 seed Colorado. Along with meeting almost every fall since the NCAA ruled teams could host a closed-door scrimmage as part of their preseason preparations, the Iowa-Creighton relationship has seen players, families, recruiting bases and more shared between the two schools that are roughly 250 miles apart. 

The intersect begins with the head coaches, who've known each in coaching circles for close to three decades. Bluder and Jim Flanery first crossed paths in the Missouri Valley Conference, when Bluder led Drake for a decade (1990-2000) and Flanery was a Creighton assistant during much of that run (1992-2002).

When Flanery took the Creighton head job the following year, the Hawkeyes and Bluejays played annually for five straight seasons (2002-07) and also met twice in the WNIT. The two have plucked from the same Midwestern recruiting hotbeds as well. Iowa's Logan Cook and Creighton's Rachael Saunders won a state title together at Iowa City West in 2018. When Minnesota native and former Hawkeye Lauren Jensen needed a new home after entering the transfer portal, the Bluejays ended up being the perfect landing spot. 

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Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) and the Hawkeyes will play Creighton Sunday for a chance to go to the Sweet 16.

It was Creighton, too, that Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark once looked up to. Her older cousin is former Dowling Catholic standout Audrey Faber, who had a solid career with the Bluejays and was on the team that faced Iowa in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Audrey and her sister, Haley, were some of Clark's fondest basketball idols growing up. 

"(Audrey) played at Dowling and went on to play at Creighton, and I thought that was the coolest thing ever," Clark said. "I remember I went to Oregon State to watch Creighton play (in 2017). They ended up going to the round of 32 and I was just her biggest fan growing up.

"I think she'll be rooting for me a little more. I hope so. We're family. But no, I think more than anything, she just wants the best for me."

The best for Clark and the Hawkeyes Sunday will be slowing Creighton's up-tempo, fire-away offense that features several Iowa elements. Iowa will have an advantage in the post with Monika Czinano, but the defensive strides the Hawkeyes have made will need to show up on the perimeter and beyond. 

Creighton leads the country at 20.7 assists per game, two spots ahead of Iowa's 19.6. A quality defensive showing could be the difference between a tight Sunday contest and a runaway affair. 

"They play a lot of five-out, and they're going to shoot the ball a lot," redshirt junior Kate Martin said. "And they push the ball well in transition. I think they're similar to us in wanting to shoot the ball. But they don't play as fast-paced as we do. But there might be some matchup issues inside. But they're a pretty good team. And there's not much difference from the scrimmage.

"We'll be ready to guard the 3-point line."

With ABC televising this clash of familiarity, the Hawkeyes will take center stage on the NCAA Tournament's third day. A chance for a third consecutive Sweet 16 berth amplifies what is normally a very informal matchup.

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.