IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa’s women’s basketball team has seen plenty of different defenses this season.
The zone that the Hawkeyes will see in Georgia in Sunday’s NCAA Tournament second-round game is just the latest test.
The Lady Bulldogs (22-11), the 10th seed in Seattle Regional 4, held Florida State to 26.9% shooting overall and 27.6% in 3-pointers in Friday’s 66-54 first-round game.
Now Georgia gets the second-seeded Hawkeyes (27-6), who led the nation in scoring at 87.5 points per game and in field-goal percentage at 51.1%. Iowa also shot 37.2 percent in 3-pointers, 10th best in the nation.
The defenses the Hawkeyes have seen this season, especially in Big Ten play, have been an education.
“I think everything really helped prepare us for this,” said Iowa center Monika Czinano. “I think we are really equipped for it. A lot of losses, yeah, they sucked. It sucks to lose. But we learned a lot of great lessons from them. They teach us really great lessons for these moments.”
The inside-out workings of the Hawkeyes’ offense create their own challenges.
“It’s hard to pick your poison with this team,” said Iowa guard Caitlin Clark, an Associated Press first-team All-American. “There’s only so much you can do, but I don’t know if they’ve really seen a team that has four consistent shooters on the perimeter like we do.”
Czinano was third in the nation in field-goal percentage after leading the nation in that category the last two seasons, and she was 10 of 12 from the field in Friday’s 95-43 first-round win over Southeastern Louisiana. Clark, who averaged 27 points per game, made 111 3-pointers this season. Forward McKenna Warnock made 50, guard Gabbie Marshall had 47, and guard Kate Martin had 37.
“Being able to use that to the best of our ability, it’s hard to play zone when you have four people on the perimeter that can really spread the floor out and shoot it like we do,” Clark said.
Georgia coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson hinted the Lady Bulldogs might want to extend their defense.
“We try to just do us and play us,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “That’s always our goal. So you know, dependent on if we are going to press or not in this game, that will change a little of the dynamics. Clearly I’m not giving you all my secrets, people.”
Clark will be the biggest concern for the Bulldogs. She leads the nation with 8.5 assists per game.
“She makes you change what you have in your game plan,” Georgia guard Diamond Battles said.
“Amazing. Amazing,” Abrahamson-Henderson said of Clark. “I mean, she’s one of the best players in the country for sure.”
The Hawkeyes have to deal with Georgia’s height advantage, especially with a double-post offense the Lady Bulldogs run.
“They’re a very physical team,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “We can’t grow overnight, so we have to be able to handle it.”
Iowa used its own zone in the second half of Friday’s win, and it’s likely the Hawkeyes will use that on Sunday.
“I think in the second half, we played all zone, and our zone caused them a lot of problems, and I think that’s something we can feed off going into Georgia,” Clark said. “I think our zone defense could be really good playing them. Obviously we’re going to try a lot of different things, but I think there’s a lot we can take away from our zone defense being really good.”
The Hawkeyes remember the disappointment of last season, when they were a No. 2 seed and lost in the second round to 10 seed Creighton.
“I definitely feel like something was taken from us last season,” Czinano said. “But I’m not letting that loss last year haunt me. That was last year, this is this year.”
Sunday’s game will be played in front of a sellout crowd of 14,382.
“Like I said the other day, every D-I athlete lives for this moment, whether they are cheering for you or cheering against you,” Battles said. “You get to play in front of a sold-out arena, who wouldn’t want to do that? The lights are on and it’s time to show up. I think our team is locked and loaded and we are ready to show up and put on a show.”