Iowa women's basketball channels pregame motivation into an emphatic NCAA Tournament debut
Iowa women's basketball had no shortage of motivation ahead of its first-round NCAA Tournament game against Southeastern Louisiana on Friday.
The No. 2 seed Hawkeyes hadn't played in over a week and were eager to return to the court, hoping to start a potential run to the Final Four after a disappointing 2022 Tournament showing.
But another source of motivation arrived leading up to Friday afternoon's eventual 95-43 drubbing, and it came from the opposing team. The Lady Lions, known as a strong defensive team from the Southland Conference, were quoted in a local television package from Hammond, Louisiana that Iowa hadn't seen a defense like theirs this season.
Head coach Ayla Guzzardo stated that unlike theirs, Iowa's not a defense-oriented team.
"They're not a big defensive team, we know that," Guzzardo said. "They don't want to play defense as much as we want to play defense. We're a great defensive team and they're a great offensive team, so something's got to give."
The video made its way to Iowa's team early in the week. Senior Kate Martin addressed it during the team's pre-practice huddle Thursday. The team answered with an emphatic offensive showing in the Tournament's first round.
SE Louisiana entered Friday giving up just 54.5 points per game. Iowa had 54 points at halftime en route to 95 points, the second-most points in program history scored in an NCAA Tournament game.
"We saw the video and we did take it personally," said senior Gabbie Marshall. "We’re not going to retaliate or anything like that. We’re just going to play our game and let the game speak for itself."
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder emphasized the importance of ball movement in Thursday's press conference. The team recorded 84 assists in its four-game winning streak leading up to the NCAA Tournament, which she noted was one of the biggest keys to a second consecutive Big Ten Tournament title. The long break didn't snap their offensive rhythm, Marshall's 3-pointer was the game's first basket off of a Martin assist. Of Iowa's 36 made field goals, 27 were the result of an assist (75%).
"I thought we did a really good job of that," Bluder said. "Anytime you're having 27 assists, that's pretty good. And of course a lot of them are (Caitlin Clark and Monika Czinano baskets and assists) but there was some other ones too and I thought we really picked up right where we left off. I don't think we got any, you know, rust in us over the last two weeks, if anything we got a little sharper."
Caitlin Clark noted that Southeastern Louisiana's physical style and on-ball pressure were a challenge throughout the game, but it didn't limit an offense that shot 60% from the field and 40% from the 3-point line. The Hawkeyes had a significant size advantage in the post and leveraged that into frequent points from Monika Czinano (22 points on 10-12 shooting) and Hannah Stuelke (13 points on 5-5 shooting), overall Iowa scored 54 points in the paint.
Friday was a complete team effort, every Hawkeye on the roster saw game action and 11 different players scored at least one basket.
"I think when we have opportunities to get everybody in the game, like when we did the Big Ten Tournament championship, it's fun," Clark said. "Us five starters, we get the bulk of the minutes, but (our teammates) still come to practice every single day and worked super hard. You see the extra time that they spent in the gym or doing extra conditioning or extra lifting. So it's fun to see them get in and the crowd loves it too."
Iowa passed its first Tournament test with flying colors, but another defensive challenge awaits on Sunday afternoon (2 pm on ESPN): No. 10 seed Georgia, who defeated Florida State by a 66-54 margin Friday, holding them to just 27% shooting. Georgia's unorthodox zone defense will be tough to prep for in a one-day window, but as Clark noted, there aren't many if any defenses Iowa hasn't seen yet.
"I think that we've seen just about anything you can do in basketball at this point," Clark said. "We've seen box-and-1, we've seen triangle-and-2, we've seen zones. I really don't know what there is out there that you can do to us that we really haven't seen. But we're going to be ready for whatever people throw at us. Georgia plays another type of zone, so I think our experience this whole season has ready for what anybody's gonna give us."