Creighton stuns No. 2 seed Iowa women's basketball in NCAA Tournament's second round

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — A united front of Iowa gold flip-flopped between tense and jubilant inside a jam-packed Carver-Hawkeye Arena. A Sunday full of storybook potential for Iowa women's basketball and its supporters wasn't supposed to end like this.

With one dagger of a shot from a former Hawkeye-turned Creighton shooter, Iowa's dream of a magical March run collapsed in front of a sold-out crowd. 

Lauren Jensen, who transferred from the Hawkeyes to the Bluejays last offseason, drained a go-ahead 3-pointer with 12 seconds remaining, helping complete an absolute stunner in Iowa City. No. 10 seed Creighton exited with a 64-62 win over No. 2 seed Iowa and the program's first Sweet 16 appearance ever. 

"I apologize to our fans," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said, "that they couldn't celebrate victory with us."

With roughly 15,000 in attendance and many thousands more watching on ABC, the stage was set for Iowa to add another unforgettable chapter to a season that's featured many. But Creighton established early it wasn't rattled by the elements. Even when the Hawkeyes came charging back in the fourth quarter following a first half to forget, the Bluejays locked in and had a counter for every Iowa push. 

It culminated with Jensen's trey, splashed home in front of Monika Czinano on a ball-screen switch that gave Jensen a sliver of space at the top of the key. The shot rattled home and quieted Carver-Hawkeye in a hurry, aside from a few drops of blue splattered throughout the gold. 

But even then, the Hawkeyes had two chances to answer. Caitlin Clark's driving attempt into two defenders resulted in a tough layup attempt, which bounced off and was corralled by Creighton. Emma Ronsiek was fouled and split two free throws, giving Iowa one final survival shot with 3.9 seconds left. 

Czinano, who dominated throughout with a game-high 27 points, caught the inbounds pass with space to work. A spin and a hook shot hung on the rim. It eventually rolled off. Putback attempts from Kate Martin and McKenna Warnock didn't fall either. 

"I've shot a million hook shots in my life and that one happened to not go in," Czinano said. "I think we've run that play a lot. We needed to run that play, and it was just unfortunate that it didn't go in."

Iowa forward Monika Czinano (25) drives past Creighton forward Emma Ronsiek (31) during the second half of a second-round game in the NCAA women's tournament on Sunday in Iowa City.

All seemed back on track in Iowa City midway through the fourth, when Gabbie Marshall drained back-to-back treys to give the Hawkeyes their first lead since midway through the first quarter. Iowa's advantage grew to four on three separate occasions, the last one coming on a Warnock layup with 1:35 left. A 62-58 edge seemed like it could be enough. 

But back came Jensen, scoring five of her team-high 19 points in the final 90 seconds. A situation like Sunday could've easily went awry for Jensen, who averaged just seven minutes per game in Iowa colors last season. But the sophomore was hardly rattled by the scenario.          

"I knew we would stay together," Jensen said. "We've been in those situations before in close games and we've been able to overcome it. Obviously it was a little bit different environment playing in front of 15,000, but I'm super proud of us for staying together and getting our offense going again".

It was going plenty in a first half that Iowa was lucky to survive. The first 20 minutes exposed all the things Iowa hoped it had corrected when facing a high-powered offense. Creighton carved apart the Hawkeyes' transition defense with a relentless, fire-away attack that left a mark even when the treys didn't fall. 

The Bluejays were just 8-for-23 from deep in the first half — with 15 of those attempts coming in the opening quarter — but a dominant effort on the glass extended several possessions beyond the initial heave. Creighton trotted into the locker room with a 29-15 rebounding edge and a 13-0 advantage on second-chance points. Down just six seemed like an Iowa win. 

The Hawkeyes, though, never found that momentum-snatching run that's buoyed them often this season. A season-low in points and shooting percentage is the final image of a year that included countless offensive heroics and big buckets. 

"Obviously didn't perform the way we needed to to win in the fashion that we wanted, said Clark, who finished with 15 points on 4-for-19 shooting, "and I think we still had a lot of opportunities to win the game. But overall they executed down the stretch and we didn't, and there's a lot of little things that you can go back and pick out from a one-possession game." 

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.