As a lifelong Iowa Hawkeyes fan, there are a few moments that are forever seared into my memory. Rob Houghtlin putting one through the uprights against Michigan, Drew Tate to Warren Holloway, the tragic passing of Chris Street, Kevin Gamble burying a deep three against Oklahoma to make the Elite 8, and Steve Waite converting an “and 1” to send Iowa past Georgetown in 1980 to get Lute’s squad into the Final Four. I remember the 1993 Iowa women’s team that made the only other Final Four in our history, but I was a very casual women’s basketball fan at the time, and I more remember that Coach Vivian Stringer’s husband passed away earlier that season. And then Coach Lisa Bluder, Caitlin Clark, and our Iowa Hawkeyes went and did a thing. And what a thing it was.
The Iowa Hawkeyes (30-6) punched their ticket (this is a cliche and I should avoid it, but how often can you say that about your favorite team?) to the Final Four in Dallas, Texas. After falling down 8-0, the Hawks relied on their experienced roster and one of the best basketball players on the planet to beat a very good Louisville (26-12) team 97-83. Louisville has a terrific coach, team, and a player very similar to Caitlin Clark. Hailey Van Lith did not disappoint. She can score at will it seems; she totaled 27 points. And there is the entire National Player of the Year conversation wrapped up in a bow, because despite how great Van Lith is (and she is), she is not the player Clark is. Hint, there is no one like her. The Hawkeyes faced an 8 point deficit right out of the gate and you could see Clark say, “Nah.”
For the Hawkeyes everyone on the court, bench, and crowd contributed to the sweet, sweet victory. Assistant Coach Jan Jensen’s father passed away earlier in the day. The team was not going to lose that game. They won it for him, the coaches, themselves, and yes, even us. The love between this team and its fans has been a palpable thing. It continues to grow, and why not? We’re Iowa. We grow things. It’s what we do.
Caitlin Clark has gotten to a point where she keeps one-upping herself. The country is literally tuning in to see what she does next. All Clark did was record a 40 point triple-double. 41 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists. She makes shots, she handles the ball, she makes passes that would make Magic Johnson proud. Her focus and desire to destroy basketball souls is Kobe-like. [My apologies that I don’t often reference famous women’s basketball players, but admittedly, prior to Caitlin Clark and writing for BHGP, I didn’t follow the women’s game very closely.] This also is a reason why I love Clark so much. Seeing all of these young girls with their families at the games and seeing posted videos of them shooting in their driveways emulating Clark... that is seriously priceless. It’s not hyperbole to say that Caitlin Clark is growing the game of basketball, not just for girls and women, but for all basketball fans.
As stated earlier, everyone contributed to this game. McKenna Warnock stepped up big-time. She had 17 points and 5 rebounds.
The strength on the pass by Clark is incredible and McKenna splashed it. Gabbie Marshall had 14 points but more importantly brought great intensity on the defensive end. Monika Czinano ended up with 9 and 5, but a few of those baskets and rebounds came in key points of the game. Hannah Stuelke bounced back quite well from her ankle injury; she played 20 minutes and her intensity, speed, and athleticism were a shot in the arm. She finished with 6 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 steal. Kate Martin played a solid game; Martin is best-known for doing things that don’t always show up in the box score, and this makes her invaluable. Winning basketball requires many, many things that don’t often get noticed. She and Connor McCaffery are very similar players, and because of this they are my two favorite Hawkeyes on the hardcourt. One thing to look for from a fan’s perspective? In tight situations, who does the coach have inbounding the basketball? More often than not, it’s these two players. It comes down to trust. I trust that Kate will make the right play.
For the game the Hawkeyes did a solid job on the glass. Rebounding was going to be a key to this game. Iowa outrebounded the Cardinals 33-32. I felt pretty good about the game, if (big if), the Hawks could limit second chance opportunities for the Cardinals. Iowa gave up way too many offensive rebounds to Georgia (13) and Colorado (21). I was thinking less than 10 would be a winning number, and we gave up 9. You know that was written on the Hawks’ whiteboard in the locker room.
Both the Hawkeyes and Cardinals shot the basketball well. The difference was that the Hawks shot 45.7% (16-35) from deep, while the Cardinals shot 36.4% (8-22) from beyond the arc.
Soak it all in. @LisaBluder x @goiowa #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/YmORyYmCLD— Iowa Women's Basketball (@IowaWBB) March 27, 2023
Now we wait. My guess (everyone’s guess) is that South Carolina beats Maryland. At this point I honestly don’t feel like there is a lot of pressure on Coach Bluder’s team. Iowa proved to the world that they can play basketball with anyone. This season will forever be one of my favorite Hawkeye memories. I may or may not have had some dust in my eyes at the conclusion of that game. And as the saying goes...
As always, and especially now, it’s great to be a Hawkeye. Go Hawks!