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No. 14 Iowa muscles its way to victory over UCF

The Iowa Hawkeyes relied on their transition offense to best the formidable defense of the Central Florida Knights.

Syndication: HawkCentral
Gabbie Marshall (with ball)
Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The No. 14 Iowa Hawkeyes were looking to bring in the holidays on a positive note as they took on the unranked but formidable Central Florida Knights at Carver Hawkeye Arena on Saturday.

The Hawkeyes came into this game on a solid note having recently secured head coach Lisa Bluder’s 800th career win, but they were also looking to redeem themselves after losing to their rival, No. 12 Iowa State, on the road, 77-70, on Dec. 8.

In addition, they looked to test their offensive prowess against a UCF team that is putting up high marks for defense. The Knights are currently third in the NCAA in scoring defense, holding opponents to 45.9 points per game.

From the beginning, it was a tight back-and-forth battle between the two teams and showed a clearly even match-up.

The UCF defense held Iowa’s offense in check as much as it could to keep it close and the Knights found themselves in good position for some good shots, particularly by guard Courtija Sanders.

Iowa’s offense, led by sophomore guard Caitlin Clark, kept it ahead and much of its success came off the team’s ability to get the defensive rebound or turnover and get ahead in transition.

At the end of the first, Iowa was up 17-13.

The second quarter saw the Hawkeyes slightly taking control of the game, leading by as much as 11 as they scored points at the free throw line and looked inside to senior center Monika Czinano for points in the paint. They also held their ground on defense by getting turnovers, obtaining steals, and remaining solid on the boards. UCF opened the second with a long scoreless stretch.

For the most part, the Knights relied on their defense to keep them competitive as Iowa started to cool on offense. Eventually, a couple good shots off of Iowa turnovers brought the Knights within a basket at 1:46 remaining before halftime.

The Knights got on a brief roll and led by as much as three until a last second shot by Caitlin Clark tied the game at 31-31 going into the locker room.

Clark finished the half with 13 points, Czinano with seven, and Sanders of UCF with 11.

The third quarter began with Iowa hitting its first four shots: two inside, one in transition, and one from the perimeter.

UCF stayed with it as it was able to get some good looks and continue to utilize its defense to keep it a competitive game.

But the Hawkeyes showed they were the better team by breaking through the UCF defense, particularly when they would get out of double teams or traps by finding the open woman for the open shot.

Czinano got some good looks in the paint off some good feeds by Clark, making them a fun dynamic duo to watch.

The Hawkeyes also drove the lane and got to the line on a frequent basis. Much of that contributed to their ever growing lead. They finished the third quarter leading 56-43.

The fourth quarter saw the Knights starting to claw their way back again. They got good possessions, hit a couple crucial baskets and got to the line as much as they could to bring them within five at one point.

But the Hawkeyes answered right back with a crucial 3-pointer by McKenna Warnock at the 6:20 mark that got the crowd on their feet.

Even with the Hawkeyes up by a sizable margin it still felt like a game that was down to the wire. There were some last minute turnovers by the Hawkeyes that would make one pull their hair out but thankfully nobody had to intentionally damage their scalps. Warnock came through with a bucket off an offensive rebound to put her team up by ten with 32.6 seconds left.

In the end, the Hawkeyes came out triumphant, 69-61. They shot 43 percent from the field, 34 percent from three, and 70 percent from the foul line.

Clark ended with another double-double (21 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists), while Czinano had 19 points and five boards and Warnock had 13 points, seven rebounds and seven helpers.

Afterwards, Clark attributed the team’s success to transitional offense and not just pertaining to this victory.

“That is something we always preach no matter who we’re playing.” she said. “That is our best offense, but that all starts on defense. Our transition is best when we get a stop. I think we had quite a few good transition points in the second half.”

Iowa (6-2, 1-0 Big Ten) will take on IUPUI (4-4) at Carver Hawkeye Arena on Tuesday at 3 p.m. ET. Central Florida fell to 8-2 (0-0 AAC).