As the clock struck zero, Hawkeyeland was vacillating between disbelief and euphoria. The next morning and I’m still cycling through those emotions. The 31-6 Iowa Hawkeyes beat the 36-1 South Carolina Gamecocks by a score of 77-73. I have watched and written about every game this year, and going in I thought we had a slight chance to win. I was teetering on the, “I hope we don’t get blown out” mindset. Now, I am a lifelong Vikings, Twins (post ‘87/’91 so I can’t claim those championships), and Hawkeye fan, so there is a little doubt that creeps into my mind for big games. [A side note that is even more pathetic? Prior to becoming a Twins fan, I was a diehard Cubs fan. I moved to Minny and decided I couldn’t follow two teams. I dropped my Cubs allegiance before they won it all, so there’s that.]
Back to what’s important. Last night still seems somewhat like a dream. Let’s revisit my key points going into yesterday’s game:
- Rebound - We knew South Carolina was huge. They take that to a whole new level. I had thought the Hawks had to hold the Gamecocks to 12 or fewer offensive rebounds. They grabbed 26. Iowa was outrebounded by 24 rebounds. Minus 24?!? Against a team that hadn’t lost in 1 1⁄2 years?!? And we still won? Get outta here.
- Run, Forrest, Run
Coming into the game, South Carolina was allowing 51.1 points per game. That placed them third in the country. Iowa was “held” to just 77 points, 10 below their average, but 26 more points than Carolina had given up on average. One of my favorite plays yesterday was this tough defensive play by Monika Czinano, an incredible pass by Caitlin Clark, and an even better catch and finish by McKenna Warnock.
3. Our Posts vs Their Posts -
Aliyah Boston is really good. I also think her backup, Kamilla Cardoso affects the game more than Boston. Coach Staley sat Boston more than I would have, she still played over 25 minutes, but I can see if she wanted to play Cardoso more. Boston had 8 and 10. Cardoso had 14 and 14 with 3 blocks. Monika Czinano had 18 points. Her footwork was one of the reasons for getting Boston in foul trouble. Hannah Stuelke played almost 12 minutes and caught a beautiful pass from Caitlin Clark in transition. I had written that Addison O’Grady may need to play valuable minutes because of foul trouble. And she aced that test! O’Grady played 10 minutes, scored 4 points, recorded a foul (yes, that was beneficial), and blocked a shot. Finally, a shoutout to post Sharon Goodman. She was named Academic All-Big Ten this week.
4. Hit shots, shots, shots!!! (Every-bod-y)
I, along with most everyone on the planet, was under the assumption that the Hawkeyes had to shoot a blistering percentage from three. The Hawkeyes shot 30% (7-23), eight percent below their average of 38% on the season from deep. I thought we’d have to shoot upwards of 45-50% from beyond the arc. Shows what I know.
5. Take South Carolina’s “punch” / 6. Will S.C. Try to Take Away Clark?
After the slow start by both teams, the jitters went away. I had thought and hoped that if we stuck around, we had a chance. We stuck around and found out. Every time we needed a basket we got one. It helps to have Caitlin Clark with the ball in her hands. Clark either made the shot or hit a wide-open roller to the basket. Clark finished with 41 points, 6 rebounds, and 8 assists. She will make the winning play. Her vision and decision making are other-worldly.
A few other Hawk items:
I’ve always been a Gabbie Marshall fan. The defense she played yesterday (and the tournament and year for that matter) was spectacular. She plays 100 miles and hour on defense but also under control. For being known as a shooter and for having pretty eyes (rolls eyes), Marshall is a dang gamer. You have a GREAT team when your “shooter” plays 39 minutes, doesn’t score, and hounds opposing players for every second she’s on the court. That is winning basketball. Coach Lisa Bluder has punched every button at the right time this year.
That was a physical and emotional ball game. The Hawks will need to get off their feet and get in more mental reps/work than physical over the next day.
Next Up: LSU Tigers
The LSU Tigers (33-2) have lost to South Carolina and Tennessee. That’s it. They too are playing their best basketball of the year. The Tigers outscored Virginia Tech 29-13 in the fourth quarter to play for the championship. This will also be LSU’s first time in the championship game. The Tigers have an excellent coach in Kim Mulkey (not my cup of tea, or maybe anyone outside of Baton Rouge) and a talented roster of mostly transfers. Maryland transfer Angel Reese is the headliner. The Hawkeyes have yet to beat an Angel Reese team (0-3 while she was at Maryland).
Physically speaking LSU could be more athletic and skilled than South Carolina. South Carolina was simply (a bit of an understatement, but still) long and tall. It felt like 80% of the Gamecocks’ points came from 2 feet from the basket. LSU can put points on the board quickly, and they are also very good defensively. The Tigers are led by Angel Reese. Reese scored 24 and grabbed 12 boards against Virginia Tech. On the year Reese is averaging 23.3 points and 15.6 rebounds. She is a mid-range and in scorer, hitting just 1 three point basket this year. Guard Alexis Morris is what makes the Tigers go. She is averaging 15.2 ppg and 4 assists per contest. Against Virginia Tech, Morris had 27 points to lead the way for LSU. Here is a clip of Morris feeding the ball into Reese in the mid/low post.
Reese is strong, skilled, and tenacious. A few coaching points: VA Tech needed to get ball pressure on the passer. An unobstructed pass into the post rarely ends well for the defense. Also, on the catch, with the other low post position occupied, I was surprised the weak side post defender did not move, like at all, to come over to play help-side defense. It may have been a particular call the Hokies had, but it clearly wasn’t good defense. The more I watch it the more I’d hate to be in on VA Tech’s film review.
Morris is a very quick, talented guard who can get to the rim. Here LSU runs a high ball screen. An “easy” two points for the Tiger point guard.
The Hawks have to call that ball screen out and communicate. Virginia Tech more or less sat back and passively “defended” this play. Teams and players are too good at this point in the season for breakdowns like that. You will pay for mental and physical mistakes.
On paper the Tigers are a better defensive and rebounding team than the Hawkeyes. LSU gives up 57.2 points per game and is plus 16 in rebounding margin. Conversely, Iowa allows 71 ppg and our rebounding margin is plus 4. Granted, the Hawkeyes want to get up and down the court, so we naturally would allow more points per game.
The Hawkeyes have are the better shooting team (knock on wood) shooting 38% from 3 (compared to LSU’s 34%) and 75% from the free throw line.
Long story short, it’s been an amazing season. Iowa beat a team that many had already crowned the champion. It won’t be the Caitlin Clark vs Angel Reese show. They are two excellent players, but the better team will win. Having Caitlin Clark on my team makes me feel pretty decent, however. As always, Let’s go Hawks! Let’s go Hawks!!