The No. 2 seed Iowa Hawkeyes redeemed themselves from last year’s second-round exit by defeating the physically tough No. 10 seed Georgia Lady Bulldogs to earn a trip to the Sweet Sixteen in Seattle.
They played together as a team and each player contributed even as freshman forward Hannah Stuelke was out with an ankle injury she sustained in practice on Saturday.
From the start, the pace was blinding as the Lady Bulldogs came out with much more quickness than usual knowing that the Hawkeyes play at a much higher caliber. Thus, both sides were essentially on the same level. The first five minutes of the game had already become a battle of control of the game with Iowa holding a slight edge at 12-8 with 4:45 remaining.
Georgia looked to limit the amount of points that Iowa would normally generate with ease from the 3-point line and relied on their pressure-packed defense to make the Hawkeyes work for their points inside. As a result, Iowa did just that as most of their points came from inside and at a foul line, with the exception being two 3-pointers, one from Caitlin Clark and one from Kate Martin.
Their biggest Achilles heel that would sustain them throughout the game was turnovers, which the Lady Bulldogs capitalized off of as much as they could.
At the 2:48 mark, Hawkeyes guard Molly Davis was seen in pain on the court after a hard foul while going after a loose ball at the Georgia end, potentially leaving room for an absence of relief on offense. However, she was quickly seen back on the bench rearing to get back in the game.
The Lady Bulldogs did exactly what they had set out to do and it was Diamond Battles that would keep them in the game with her sharpshooting and physical style of play. The Hawkeyes kept grinding their way through and led 19-17 at the end of the first.
Clark had six points and Battles had seven.
As the second quarter commenced, the Hawkeyes looked to get out on a run as they normally would do once they got a feel for the dynamic of the game. An opening 3-pointer by Gabbie Marshall put Iowa up 22-17 and it was on from there.
Battles was still the catalyst behind Georgia’s will and skill as she continued to surge the Lady Bulldog offense with tenaciousness. Shooting from inside the line and at the foul line, she was able to reach double figures quickly.
Clark, who would typically take over, was largely in the background as her teammates helped spark another epic Hawkeye run. At 8:02, Marshall hit another three to give the Hawkeyes their biggest lead of the game to that point at 28-21 and get the hyped-up crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on their feet. Then, at 7:28, McKenna Warnock opened it up to a 10-point lead with a three of her own that made it 31-21, keeping the Hawkeyes on a 9-4 run.
Meanwhile, Clark was for the most part lagging behind the 3-point line, her sweet spot. On open looks or from the logo, she largely came up short. But it was Marshall that was taking over as she would hit another 3-pointer approaching the five-minute mark, giving her nine points, all from three.
Furthermore, Warnock was living up to her role as the workhorse as she was scoring from all areas and reached 10 points at the midway point of the second.
With 4:50 left, Iowa led 34-26.
But Georgia’s tremendous rebounding at both ends and their defense enabled them to claw their way back. At the 4:49 mark, Battles hit two free throws to cut the Hawkeye lead to a basket and give her 13 points.
Iowa’s offense had been largely neutralized and Clark was held at 6 points. At the three-minute mark, senior guard Alisha Lewis hit a huge 3-pointer to give the Bulldogs a one-point lead at 35-34. The momentum started to swing back in the direction of Georgia. With two minutes remaining, Monika Czinano got the lead back for Iowa with a basket in the paint.
With 58 seconds left, Marshall reached 12 points with her fourth 3-pointer to put the Hawkeyes up 39-35. But quickly after, Battles hit another big three off the glass to bring it back to a one-point game at 39-38.
Then with sheer determination, Clark came back around as she muscled her way into the paint for a jump shot that drew the foul to make it 41-38. But it would be the Bulldogs that would have the final say to close out the half as senior forward Javyn Nicholson scored inside to bring them back within one in the final seconds.
Marshall had 12 points at the break. Warnock had 10, while Clark and Czinano had eight apiece.
The third quarter was a make-or-break period for the Hawkeyes. They needed to up their game on the defensive end, limit the turnovers and be more aggressive on the boards because Georgia had them right where they wanted them. After a Brittney Smith basket opened things up for Georgia, the crowd at Carver got re-energized as Czinano scored inside to give the Hawkeyes the lead at 43-42.
Then, at 8:49, Clark got her mojo back from her favorite place on the court as she hit a three to put the Hawkeyes up 46-42.
By this point, four Hawkeye players (Clark, Czinano, Warnock, and Marshall) had scored in double figures, whereas Battles still had 16. The intensity of the game was starting to reach a fever pitch as it was back to how it all started with both sides fighting for control.
After a Hawkeye turnover and Georgia fast-break basket by junior forward Zoesha Smith tied the game at 46, Clark answered back with a three to put the Hawkeyes up 49-46.
When play resumed after a full timeout, Nicholson hit a basket at the 4:12 mark to put the Bulldogs within one again. They went back to upping the ante on defense as they continued to render the Hawkeyes disorganized.
At 2:38, Nicholson gave the Bulldogs the lead with a basket inside that made it 52-51 and it seemed as if Georgia was going to enter the final quarter on a high note as the sluggishness of the Hawkeyes’ play was becoming evident.
But Iowa had other plans in mind.
A Czinano basket inside gave them the lead back. After a Lady Bulldog turnover, Marshall hit her fifth 3-pointer to put Iowa up 56-52 with around 1:20 remaining. Then, a Warnock jumper in the corner gave them a six-point lead at 58-52 with under 50 seconds remaining.
Two free throws by Jordan Isaacs allowed the Bulldogs cut it to four going into the fourth.
A classic March Madness finish was in the making. A chance for Iowa to plow forward or bear living through another shortcoming at home in the second round. Georgia had a chance to defy expectations.
Smith opened things up with a basket to make it a two-point game at 58-56.
Then after a period of scrappy play at both ends, Clark stepped up and used her impressive delegation skills to open the floodgate for her team at a crucial time. First she went to the line to hit two free throws to make it a four-point Iowa lead at 60-56. Then she found Warnock inside at the 7:08 mark to increase the lead to six. Finally, she found Czinano in the paint for a basket to make it 64-56 and cap an 8-2 run.
But it was Battles who fittingly battled her way through the hysteria at Carver as she hit another 3-pointer to cut the Iowa lead to five.
With just under five minutes remaining, things started to point in the favor of the Hawkeyes as they held a sizable lead, but there was still plenty of time left. Another basket by Battles followed by a turnover by Warnock and foul by Marshall set the Bulldogs up for a chance to regain momentum only trailing by five at 66-61.
Smith hit a huge basket to cut it to three, giving her 12 points. But shortly thereafter, Czinano was fouled at the other end and was sent to the foul line to shoot two. She converted on both to give her 20 points and Iowa a five-point lead at 68-63. It got the crowd back on their feet with 3:10 remaining.
The tension was so palpable that trying to cut it with a knife would be to no avail. With under two minutes, fifth year guard/forward Audrey Warren brought Georgia back within a basket with an epic three in the corner, which briefly silenced the crowd.
With under one minute to go, the possibilities were endless and the excitement was beyond comprehension.
Who else but Clark was to be the one who took over as she converted on a running floater off the glass to put the Hawkeyes up 70-68 with 42.8 seconds left and force Georgia to take a full timeout.
Clark got the crowd on their feet with her traditional arm waving as Georgia had possession. A huge tip of the ball from Warnock found its way into the hands of Czinano, who got it to Clark, who was able to kill time as she dribbled toward to the other end just as Iowa called a timeout.
25.1 seconds were between Iowa and the Sweet Sixteen.
An inbounds pass from Clark was stolen by Battles and she tried to take it all the way to the hole before failing to convert on the layup as she was trailed by Warnock. Iowa got the rebound was fouled.
Then, with 3.8 seconds left, the tension reached a boiling point when Marshall was fouled hard along the baseline by Isaacs. Marshall was seen walking to the bench holding her mouth as if she was bleeding. An exchange of words happened between Isaacs and Czinano which led to an intentional foul being called against Isaacs.
It fell on Clark to seal the fate of the Bulldogs at the free throw and she did just that as she made both to make it 72-66 Iowa. She hit two more after Nicholson fouled her intentionally.
When the final buzzer sounded after 17 turnovers that at times hampered their offense, Iowa came away with a 74-66 win. For Czinano and Warnock, this was their final game played at Carver.
Clark finished with another double-double: 22 points, 12 assists and three rebounds. Czinano had 20 points and nine rebounds. Marshall had 15 points, one assist, and one rebound. Warnock had 14 points, eight rebounds and two assists.
For Georgia, Battles finished with 21 points, six rebounds and one assist. Nicholson had 12 points and eight rebounds. Smith had 12 points, three rebounds and one assist. Lewis had 8 points, 10 assists and two rebounds. Isaacs had six points, 10 rebounds and two assists.
After her impressive shooting performance, Marshall spoke about the importance of growing in confidence, as the competition will get stronger from here on out.
“I think as shots go down you gain confidence,” she said. “It is only going to get harder and teams are gonna get better from here and we know that. We are just gonna have the same mentality, take it game by game, day by day. I think we’re ready, we’re excited. Obviously it’s really special to be able to go to the Sweet Sixteen and I think we are just gonna lock down, stay focused.”
Iowa (28-6) will take on the winner of the No. 3 seed Duke/No. 6 seed Colorado matchup that is set to take place on Monday 9 p.m. ET. The Sweet Sixteen game will be on Friday (Time: TBA).