No. 11 Iowa women's basketball fights off pesky UNI to complete in-state sweep

Dargan Southard
Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY — When scanning the recent Iowa-Northern Iowa women’s basketball results, chatter about any in-state intensity seems more manufactured than legitimate. Aside from one Panthers win three years ago, the Hawkeyes have owned this rivalry with multiple blowouts.

Things weren't as smooth Sunday.

In its first game back from final exams, No. 11 Iowa got all it could handle from the pesky Panthers. UNI and its Iowan-heavy roster kept a strong Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd in check for most of the afternoon, bogging down Iowa’s potent offense at every place but the free-throw line. The Hawkeyes eventually found enough separation for an 88-74 win, but it was a far cry from the cruise-control victories of seasons past.

"I thought our game today was OK," said Iowa coach Lisa Bluder. "It wasn't our best performance of the year."

The Hawkeyes (9-3) couldn't hit from deep (6-for-22). Standouts Monika Czinano and Caitlin Clark struggled shooting in ways not often seen. The Panthers (5-4) gained plenty of confidence from it all as a nervous energy repeatedly swept through Iowa’s building deep into the second half.

The Hawkeyes never relinquished the lead after the second quarter’s midway point, but that backbreaking Iowa surge designed to remove all doubt never really arrived. UNI had its deficit down to just five with 7:05 to go, before the Hawkeyes strung enough defensive stops together to eliminate all upset vibes.

"You're going to have games where it's a little bleh," Clark said. "And we obviously had some time off, so we felt like we were prepared and ready. But it felt like we were kind of rusty and couldn't really get into a flow real well. I don't know if that was because of the fouling. I don't know if it was just because we didn't run our offense the best or our defense wasn't great at times.

"But obviously, it's great we gutted out a win."

While Clark and Czinano led Iowa with 26 and 22 points respectively, the Hawkeyes’ dynamic offensive duo combined to miss 19 shots on 31 attempts. The Panthers clogged the lane and made every bucket a difficult one at times.

Iowa’s saving grace was the charity stripe. The Hawkeyes finished 28-for-31 there, including a staggering 13-for-14 in the third quarter alone to keep UNI at bay. Clark and Czinano combined to take 25 of those free throws with only two misses.

"For me when teams choose to double, they're going to foul more," Czinano said. "That's just kind of how it works. They're physical like that. Making moves led to drawing more fouls, and it was good to convert from the free-throw line. That's been an emphasis for me.

"Again, not the best shooting night. But glad (the free-throw success) could be shining."

Grace Boffeli led the Panthers with 16 points and got double-digit assistance from Maya McDermott (15 points), Emerson Green (11 points) and Kam Finley (10 points). A 42-35 rebounding edge, including a 14-7 edge on the offensive glass, extended countless possessions.

While the Panthers' overall ledger may not pop, UNI had hung with two top-15 teams amid a rugged non-conference schedule. Quality showings against Iowa and Iowa State, coupled with neutral-site victories over Tulane and Vanderbilt, should have the Panthers prepared for the treacherous Missouri Valley Conference road ahead.

"I thought our mindset was really good," said UNI coach Tanya Warren. "I like how we defended, and I thought our offense was pretty good early. So for the most part, I was pleased. We've got to eliminate some live-ball turnovers, and that will help this team continue to get better."

Iowa expected this kind of test from a familiar foe, even if history indicated otherwise. The Hawkeyes complete the in-state sweep and will return to action for Wednesday’s non-conference finale against Dartmouth.    

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