What a ride this season has been for the Iowa women’s basketball team. The Hawkeyes have knocked off three quality opponents in a row in Georgia, Colorado, and Louisville. They are “rewarded” by getting to play the basketball equivalent of the 1972 Miami Dolphins. There have been 9 NCAA women’s (Division 1) undefeated national champions, the last being the UCONN Huskies in 2015-16. I feel that there is now more parity in the game, so these unblemished seasons will become more rare. That also goes to show you just how dominant Dawn Staley’s team is. Over the past four seasons, South Carolina is 129-8 (94%). Their 2020-21 squad will more than likely get bullied at future homecomings and reunions as they went a despicable 26-5. Do our Hawkeyes have a shot? Yes. Will it take darn near a perfect storm to win? Maybe. Win, lose, or draw (ok, that’s impossible) this has been a remarkable season. I know I speak for many Hawkeyes who have said this March run has been one of their all-time-favorite Hawkeye memories. It checks that box for me as well.
What jumps off the TV screen is their size. They are ginormous. Not only do they have great height and length, they are athletic. What kind of talent are we talking about? Last year’s National Player of the Year, Aliyah Boston, is backed up in the post by Kamilla Cardoso. Boston is 6’5”, Cardoso is 6’7” Recruiting rankings? Cardoso, a non-starter, was a 5 star recruit, the #5 player overall, and held the #1 ranking at her position. As a comparison, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, she of the will-have-a-statue in Iowa City some day, was the #4 player overall and #2 at her position. Aliyah Boston was ranked #3/#1; Zia Cooke #4/#1. After that I quit looking, it was too depressing.
Aliyah Boston (6’5” forward) - Averaging 13.2 ppg/9.8 rpg/ 2 blocks (She is a big, physical presence who is also skilled close to the basket). Boston can shoot from mid-range (she’s a 76% free throw shooter), but her range doesn’t extend beyond that. Boston is as strong of player in the low post as you could ever hope to see. In this clip South Carolina clears out the weak side and an easy post entry leads to a quick two points for Boston.
For being so physical it is interesting to me that Boston has averaged just 1.5 fouls per game. Boston is also able to put the ball on the floor and get to the basket.
Zia Cook (5’9” guard) - Averaging 15.1 ppg and 2 assists per game; shoots 35% from three. Here is a clip of Maryland playing passive defense and the Gamecocks reversing the ball for a wide-open shot. Maryland was slow rotating over and Cook splashes it.
Kamilla Cardoso (6’7” forward) - Averaging 13.2 ppg/8.4 rpg/1.9 blocks; her height and length in intimidating
Brea Beal (6’1” guard) - 6.5 ppg/4.4 rpg/2.8 assist; shoots 40% from 3
- The Gamecocks average 80.5 points per game and give up just 51.1. South Carolina gave up just 43 points to UCLA on March 25th.
- South Carolina averages 18.1 OFFENSIVE (not yelling, but yikes!) rebounds per game. This stat terrifies me. Many of their points come from put backs or fouls called after a defense gives up an offensive board. This will be the first, second, and third point of emphasis for Coach Lisa Bluder. When a shot goes up, our Hawks must find a body and fight for every rebound. South Carolina tends to get a very friendly whistle, so the Hawks must match their physicality.
- South Carolina is used to playing in front of big crowds - they are the most successful show in town. I’m not sure if they are used to playing in neutral environments, however, where an opposing team also brings some folks. Iowa has a very vociferous fan base that follows its teams. Having some loud Hawk fans in Dallas could honestly be a key to victory. South Carolina played their last two games just 100 miles from campus. Also, in such venues where multiple fanbases are in attendance, fans of other teams or people who attend the game that don’t have a dog in the fight will often pull for the underdog. This is a David vs. Goliath event if there ever was one. Non-Hawk fans, we need your voices! (Ok, that was a waste of time because they won’t read this, but just roll with me.)
Keys to Victory for the Hawks:
- The Hawkeyes must box out on every shot attempt. After giving up a gazillion offensive rebounds to Colorado (21), the Hawkeyes did a much better job on the glass giving up 9 offensive rebounds to Louisville. South Carolina is night-and-day better than Colorado in the post (and everywhere else for that matter). If the Hawkeyes could give up 12 “O-boards” or fewer I think we have a chance.
- The Hawkeyes lead the NCAA in scoring with 87.6 points per game (almost 3.5 points more than Oklahoma). In my opinion Iowa needs to turn this into a track meet. No one gets up and down the court like the Hawkeyes. South Carolina’s strength is in its bigs. If Iowa can fast break we can beat those posts down the court and we can tire them out at the same time. South Carolina is not conditioned like our squad.
- Hannah Stuelke will have her greatest challenge she has ever faced on the basketball court. She seemed like she has recovered from her ankle injury and her speed, toughness, athleticism, and tenacity will be needed. Obviously Monika Czinano needs to play the game of her life. I am worried about foul trouble for her. Because of this, Addison O’ Grady may need to play extended minutes. O’ Grady has given us good minutes this year, and what better time to shine than Friday night?
- Hit shots - How’s that for basketball analysis? We need to put the ball in the basket. A lot.
- Take their punch - South Carolina has been there, done that. They won’t get frazzled, and if they do fall behind, it has to be comforting for Dawn Staley (a terrific coach) to bring in a McDonald’s All-American to spell a McDonald’s All-American. The Hawks will get knocked down (physically and symbolically) but we will get back up. Kate “Glue” Martin, Caitlin “Kobe” Clark, McKenna Warnock, Gabbie Marshall, and every other Hawk will fight for Iowa until the game is won (I sang that in my head).
- Does South Carolina want to make it Boston vs. Clark? - Much has been said and written about the last two years over the National Player of the Year awards. Aliyah Boston is an incredible player on an incredible team. She is not, however, Caitlin Clark. Clark is the most skilled college basketball player I have seen in a long, long time. I could see where South Carolina may want to sell-out to stop Clark AND emphasize Boston. I’ve said it time and again. Clark will take a 20 assist win over scoring 40 points and losing every day of the week.
In summary, it is the clichéd game where if Iowa sticks around we have a chance. It could get ugly depending on how the game is called, foul trouble (S.C.’s depth exceeds ours), and whether we are making shots. Either way, this has been an incredible run. Everything about this season has been enjoyable. Nothing will take away from this season. Let’s get some Hawk fans to the Big D and let’s play another one, Hawks! It’s great to be a Hawkeye! As you can see below, Coach Bluder looks pretty good wearing a net. Let’s add to her collection.
No, you weren't dreaming.— Iowa Women's Basketball (@IowaWBB) March 27, 2023
Yes, we're going to the Final Four @LisaBluder x #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/gFKXwwIWJF