Defensive intensity shown in Cy-Hawk win an encouraging sign for No. 13 Iowa women's basketball

Dargan Southard
Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY — Lisa Bluder had to capture this moment and make sure no one forgot the words coming out of her star guard’s mouth. Once Caitlin Clark started hyping up defensive responsibilities and the joy it brings the Hawkeyes, her head coach knew this was a rare soundbite.

“We got that on recording,” Bluder said. “It’s fun to play defense.”

Clark, though, was quick with a response.

“It’s opposite day!” she exclaimed followed by a press room full of laughter.

The No. 13 Hawkeyes (7-3) were full of playful banter after an emotional 70-57 win over No. 8 Iowa State, but what Iowa showcased defensively Wednesday was no laughing matter. The intensity displayed on this night when shots weren’t falling illustrated the defensive leaps Iowa is trying to make with lofty goals ahead.

Iowa obviously would’ve taken a Cy-Hawk victory in any form or fashion, both for the rivalry elements and the March Madness resume enhancement. But for it to come in the style it did — 40 minutes of defensive suffocation that completely stifled a potent offense — is arguably even more important than if the Hawkeyes won this game with 90+ points on the scoreboard.

More:Caitlin Clark shakes off sluggish start, guides No. 8 Iowa women's basketball to Cy-Hawk win

“This is one of our best defensive efforts,” Bluder said. “There was an energy and a focus to our defense. We knew we were trying to do some different things off certain people, and we created 15 turnovers out there. That was very good.

We went eight straight days. Thursday is a day off for us, so I was worried a bit about their legs going into this one. But it didn’t bother them at all.”  

Iowa center Addison O'Grady (44) blocks the shot of Iowa State forward Morgan Kane (31) during a Cy-Hawk Series game on Wednesday night

Once it became clear this wasn’t going to be the offensive gem many expected — it only took about a quarter to do so — the Hawkeyes had two choices. Let the frustration from shots not falling seep into defensive responsibilities, or embrace the rugged pace and shut down Iowa State in the same fashion.

The Hawkeyes emphatically chose the latter.

Most notably during Iowa’s 19-2 momentum-snatching run to end the third quarter, the Hawkeyes locked in on Iowa State defensively and disrupted the Cyclones beyond repair. Over the final six minutes of the third quarter, Iowa State had one field goal, three turnovers and five missed shots.

Overall, the Cyclones were a dreadful 36% from the field, 33% from deep and 50% at the line. Neither All-American Ashley Joens (15 points on 5-for-13 shooting) nor interior threat Stephanie Soares (10 points while going 0-for-6 at the line) found a rhythm.

“I feel like I’m better at guarding post drives, and I just feel a little more agile on my feet for sure,” said Iowa center Monika Czinano. “But I think it’s so huge too, we have people who really understand the scout. Like coach Bluder said, we’re coming to double and were able to get some turnovers on that.

“Just causing a little bit of chaos in there is huge for us, and that’s just a credit to my teammates. They’re knowing what they’re doing out there. They’re able to help me to the best of my abilities.”      

Iowa center Monika Czinano (25) and Iowa forward Hannah Stuelke (45) defend Iowa State's Stephanie Soares. Stifiling defense helped Iowa come out with a win Wednesday night

Just as pivotal is the timing of this performance. The Hawkeyes were bullied defensively in their last premier game against then-No. 11 North Carolina State, a game in which Iowa got 45 points from Clark, but couldn’t pair late stops to go with them. A 94-81 stumble led to harsh realities in the postgame assessment.

Recalling those issues and how Iowa wholeheartedly corrected them Wednesday is what had Clark so fired up to talk defense.  

More:Caitlin Clark's 45 points not enough for No. 10 Iowa women's basketball in loss to No. 11 NC State

“The most frustrating part about it is we knew we were so capable of playing great defense,” Clark said. “We knew we could’ve won the game. All we had to do was get stops on the defensive end.

“So we took it a little more to heart this game. We really bought into defense. It’s fun getting stops. It’s fun getting five-second calls. It’s fun forcing them into turnovers. Maybe the (NC State) loss was the kick in the butt we needed going forward.”

The Hawkeyes probably don’t want to fully live in an “opposite day” world, where offensive performances in the 70s become the norm and defensive intensity surfaces to the top each game. But Wednesday’s result at least re-emphasizes that Iowa has the ability to put a strong defensive gameplan together against quality squads.   

Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and Email him at or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.