Iowa women's basketball methodically pushes past Colorado to reach Elite Eight

Dargan Southard
Des Moines Register

SEATTLE — The phrase “just be us” and variations of it circled through the Hawkeyes women’s basketball locker room Thursday, designed to offer reassurance that Iowa’s potent product could handle anything Colorado offered up.

It wasn’t arrogance, more like hard-earned confidence — and Iowa showed why it has plenty Friday in another tense NCAA Tournament affair. Methodically but effectively, the Hawkeyes adjusted to Colorado’s physicality and put the Buffaloes away with an Elite Eight spot at stake.

No. 2 seed Iowa is now one win from its first Final Four in 30 years after Friday’s 87-77 win over the No. 6 seed Buffaloes at Climate Pledge Arena. Iowa now gets an Elite Eight date with No. 5 seed Louisville at 8 p.m. CT Sunday evening.

More:How to watch, stream and listen to Iowa women's basketball vs. Louisville in Elite Eight

More:Sign up here for Chad Leistikow's Iowa Hawkeyes text-message group

More:Leistikow's 5 thoughts: After 31-point night, Caitlin Clark one win from taking Iowa to Final Four

"This team has learned it's going to take all five of us on the floor to do this," fifth-year senior Monika Czinano said. "It's not just going to be me. It's not just going to be Caitlin (Clark). It's not just going to be anyone who comes in. It's truly going to take every single one of us.

"We have to do what we've been doing all season and not be any different."

Locked in another basketball battle that lacked comfort and required composure, the Hawkeyes leaned on a no-panic approach to take them home. There were bumps on the ride through winning time as Colorado made a bit of noise while trying to climb out of a double-digit hole. But it’ll take more than a pesky underdog to rattle this bunch.

A double-digit cushion Clark and Iowa first constructed in the second half with a 13-0 third-quarter surge was trimmed to four in the final two minutes, before Iowa answered back with the finishing touches on another hard-fought victory.

Despite battling foul trouble for much of the second half, Czinano kept trouble from fully brewing with a tough bucket that gave Iowa an 80-74 advantage with 64 seconds remaining. She then corralled a huge defensive rebound to effectively end the drama.

"It's a really tough shot. She shoots it with her left hand with three seconds to go on the shot clock. A hook shot to the middle, that's not easy. It was contested." said Clark, describing her teammate's clutch conversion with the precise detail she always uses. "I'm not sure Monika even understands how big of a shot it was for us, but I'm proud of her for making that. Going from (a lead of) four to six is quite different. I thought we responded really well."

Czinano took just nine shots on the day while fighting through four fouls, finishing with 15 points and seven rebounds. Clark did her thing per usual with a casual 31 points — 18 of which arrived in the second half after Iowa sported a one-point halftime deficit. Kate Martin added 16 points in another big-game performance. McKenna Warnock added 12.

"This is what you have to do in March," Martin said. "You've got to stick together. You've got to trust your preparation, trust the work you've put in. I think we've been doing that really well so far."

Following another seesawing first half in which the Hawkeyes struggled on the defensive glass and couldn’t firmly grab control, Clark ignited the second-half spurt that allowed Iowa to play from ahead. After several consecutive possessions where the Hawkeyes paired stifling defense with easy baskets at the rim, Clark swished from deep, picked off a pass at midcourt and finished with a fastbreak layup to cap the 13-0 sprint.

More:Leistikow: Iowa's Jan Jensen confronts life's highs, lows at NCAA Tournament

More:Caitlin Clark's performances have caught the attention of these 5 famous athletes

More:How good is Iowa's Caitlin Clark? Here are 15 stats that put her dominance in perspective.

More:Iowa's Caitlin Clark, Monika Czinano are a powerful duo. These 5 impressive moments show why

Amid that run saw Czinano head to the bench after picking up her third foul, a situation that forced a rare extended Addison O'Grady cameo with Hannah Stuelke coming off an injury and ineffective. All Clark did was respond with nine consecutive Iowa points to prevent Colorado from snatching any momentum.

She had different defenders on her all night, the same aggressive defensive gameplan again implemented against the Iowa superstar. But Clark has shown her mental toughness is strong — as is Iowa’s — and that’s why the Hawkeyes remain alive.

"This team doesn't even really bat an eye when things don't go our way," Clark said. "It's just, 'What can we do? What can we do next?' And I think that just shows a lot growth because it hasn't always been like that in my three years here."

There were plenty of reasons why Friday's affair could've gone awry. The Buffaloes emphatically owned the offensive glass (21-7 edge on o-boards). Colorado's Frida Formann couldn't miss in the first half. In-game adversity appeared in more ways than one throughout another 40-minute battle.

Handling all of it didn't require some grand plan. The Hawkeyes were nothing more than themselves Friday. That’s all they needed to be.  

More:Caitlin Clark has a long list of Iowa basketball achievements, even before the NCAA Tournament

More:How Caitlin Clark's stats measure up against other national player of the year contenders

More:Caitlin Clark's 5 best quotes of the Iowa women's basketball season

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