No. 2 seed Iowa women's basketball beats Georgia, advances to Sweet 16 of NCAA Tournament

Dargan Southard
Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY — The notoriously tense energy that arrives when college basketball seasons are close to ending before they’re supposed to barged its way into Carver-Hawkeye Arena, almost like it knew its way around.

For the better part of four quarters, Sunday’s scene felt eerily similar to the disaster Iowa endured a season ago. It was on this veteran group to prevent another monumental faceplant from materializing.

Iowa, for all it struggled with, proved its worth in winning time.

It was far from a masterpiece, but No. 2 seed Iowa women's basketball is off to the Sweet 16 for the third time in the last four NCAA Tournaments thanks to a 74-66 win over No. 10 seed Georgia inside a sold-out building.

"We stayed composed when things were going a little haywire," fifth-year guard Kate Martin said. "I think that just shows our veteran makeup and that we really wanted to win this game. That shows other teams in this tournament that you can't break our circle."

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While a Sweet 16 berth may feel like a bare-minimum achievement given Iowa’s Final Four chatter, the Hawkeyes at least showed they've matured in handling the tense, must-win situation they didn't last year in losing to Creighton in the same spot.

For much longer than Iowa wanted, Sunday’s second-round affair unfolded at Georgia's pace and style. The Bulldogs mucked up and suffocated the middle with their zone defense, forcing Iowa to fight through the clutter and find its potent offensive product before things spiraled too far. There was never that momentum-snatching push Iowa loves to use to pull away, more just an unwavering persistence to get the ball inside and grind its way to the finish line.

The Hawkeyes finally broke through the pressure in the final minute, after Clark’s driving runner gave Iowa a 70-66 lead with 42 seconds remaining. Iowa responded with back-to-back defensive stops — the second one necessary after a Clark inbounds pass was intercepted — before closing things out with four free throws in the final three seconds. Clark drained them all after Georgia was called for intentional fouls on consecutive plays while trying to desperately extend the game.

"Those are the situations coach (Lisa) Bluder puts us in (during practice) — limited time on the clock, limited timeouts — and you have to figure it out," Clark said. “We came down and got a deflection and a steal, and then it's basically just making free throws. And we're one of the best free-throw shooting teams in America.

"It's just finding confidence within your teammates. That's exactly what we did. When things didn't go our way, we looked to our left and our right and were never flustered."

Clark finished with 22 points and 12 assists, while shooting 6-for-17 from the field and 4-for-10 from deep. Monika Czinano poured in 20 points and nine rebounds in her Carver-Hawkeye Arena finale. Timely offensive contributions from McKenna Warnock (14 points) and Gabbie Marshall (15 points on five treys) kept Iowa’s offense afloat enough until Clark controlled things late.  

The frustration that lingered all the way to the end last season was far from removed at intermission. Although the Hawkeyes spent most of the first half out in front — growing their lead to as large as 10 with a barrage of downtown action — Georgia’s zone defense still mucked up the paint and passing lanes to make it hard to operate.

Pair that with 10 first-half turnovers — every starter had at least one — and the Hawkeyes hardly felt comfortable in the locker room with a 41-40 advantage.

"I think our maturity just showed so much throughout this entire game," said Warnock, also playing her last game in Iowa City. "We were steady the entire game. That's not really what we had against Creighton last year, and that might've been why we lost. But it just shows how much confidence we have in each other and the confidence the coaches have in us. We did have a lot of turnovers. It could've gone one way, and it went the other way. I'm glad it did."

Perhaps this is the perfect blend of tension and triumph to fuel a farther run. Yes, Sunday was a big hurdle Iowa had to conquer. But these Hawkeyes won't be satisfied if their March Madness journey concludes sometime in Seattle. Iowa will face the winner of Monday's Duke-Colorado game in the Sweet 16.

Having to keep the intensity at full throttle Sunday prevented Iowa from basking in the moment too much. That should make the Seattle reset easier to digest than if the Hawkeyes had to hear about how flawlessly they played against Georgia.

Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and Email him at