LSU's hot-shooting too much for Iowa women's basketball to overcome in national championship game

Dargan Southard
Des Moines Register

DALLAS — A relentless purple wave came crashing down on Iowa women's basketball's magical run, punishing the Hawkeyes over and over for even the slightest defensive breakdown.

When the LSU tide temporarily subsided, the Hawkeyes had a small window to make a break — although it would require a flawless flow of breaks without any more turbulence. On this day, even owning the sport’s most exhilarating player wasn’t enough to conquer this tough task.

Stuck in a 17-point halftime hole that ballooned past 20 early in the third quarter, Caitlin Clark and the Hawkeyes tried to muster a rally for the ages on the season’s grandest stage. They’ll have to begrudgingly settle for a respectable second-half effort.

LSU rode that early wave to the program’s first national championship, toppling the Hawkeyes with a 102-85 victory Sunday inside Dallas’ American Airlines Center. It’s a sour ending to an unforgettable season that altered women’s basketball beyond the imaginable.   

"It was a little bit choppy here and there, but a lot of credit to LSU," said fifth-year senior Monika Czinano, who had 13 points in her final Iowa game. "They were making some really tough shots at the end of the day. We stood by our scouting report, and I'm just so proud of all of my teammates for the grit and determination."

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A lights-out shooting half saw LSU make the first significant surge, closing the second quarter on a 16-6 run to grab a 17-point halftime advantage. The Tigers’ final first-half points came on a Jasmine Carson banked-in trey at the horn, a microcosm of the early blows Iowa had to absorb.

Carson finished the half with 21 points on a spotless 7-for-7 from the field, including five treys. As a whole, the Tigers blistered the first-half net at a 58% clip while draining 75% of their downtown attempts (9-for-12). Some of them were tough attempts that required an Iowa cap tip. Others were clean looks without an Iowa defender in sight.

Carson, who hadn't scored in her previous three NCAA Tournament games, only had one point in the second half, but the damage was more than done by then.

"They were really hot," Iowa associate head coach Jan Jensen said. "Our defense, it didn't look good today, obviously. But I'm telling you, look at (LSU's) percentages — what they typically shot. Go back and watch four of five (game) films, and see how people have been defending them. They made shots today, for whatever reason. (Carson), she averages two (points) the last five games. She's got 21 in the first half. She leaned into that moment.

"Credit LSU. Credit Kim (Mulkey), her staff. They do a phenomenal job. It isn't her first rodeo. The underdog is a little more fun to be. I felt we were a little looser against South Carolina. Here, a little bit more at stake. But again, we battled."

The Hawkeyes’ season-long chatter touting its mental resolve and veteran maturity had to arrive in bunches if Iowa was going to climb all the way out of this hefty hole.

It arrived with a riveting third-quarter push that saw Iowa slice a 21-point deficit down to nine in barely four minutes, pouring in treys that desperately tried to ignite a large Iowa contingency. Clark drained a pair. McKenna Warnock splashed one home, then Gabbie Marshall did the same. It was the push Iowa needed to make it a game again, even getting within seven on two different occasions later in the third. But the Hawkeyes still required one more surge to turn the comeback attempt into something serious.

That never came.

"I felt really good when we got it to seven," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "I thought we were going to do it. I really did. My team thought they were going to do it."

Iowa had to deal with foul issues galore — some questionable, some legitimate. Three starters, including Clark, began the fourth quarter with four fouls. The Hawkeyes’ superstar was hit with her fourth on a debatable technical foul with a minute remaining in the third quarter for what was ruled Iowa's second delay of game call, after Clark — according to official Lisa Jones — "failed to immediately pass the ball to the nearest official."

The technical came with Iowa facing a 73-64 deficit that grew to 11 after LSU hit the two free throws as a result. The Tigers' cushion only dipped below double digits for 26 seconds the rest of the way.

More than anything though, Clark's technical loomed large because of the three fouls she picked up in the first half, which forced her to sit for the final 3 ½ minutes before the break. Two of those were offensive, both called in a three-minute window. In their final game wearing Iowa colors, Czinano and Warnock fouled out as well. Neither starter played more than 25 minutes.

It went both ways, though — really the only way it could when a stunning 37 fouls are called. LSU star Angel Reese picked up two first-quarter fouls, sat the entire second quarter and only played nine first-half minutes overall. Four other Tigers were whistled for two first-half fouls.

For as whistle-heavy as the game was, the box score revealed essentially equal influence. The Tigers were whistled for 18 fouls and watched Iowa go 15-for-20 at the line. The Hawkeyes were whistled for 19 fouls and watched LSU go 15-for-21 at the line.

"Sometimes, that's how things go," said Clark, who had 30 points on 9-for-22 shooting while going 8-for-19 from deep. "I thought all I could do is respond and come back out there and keep fighting and keep trying to help this team crawl back into the game."

Still, the final scoreboard reading will be the toughest pill for Iowa to swallow, given how rare getting this opportunity was in the first place. It will undoubtedly offer up plenty of motivation for next season, which will include Clark, Kate Martin, Marshall, an abundance of role players and potentially some key transfer portal additions.

"I'm very grateful for the season we had," Bluder said, "and I don't want anything to take away from that."

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