IOWA CITY – It wasn’t that Iowa played poorly late in the first half on Friday — going double digits without much resistance is hardly cause for concern — but the bar is set high for roaring starts as a top seed.
A No. 1 or No. 2 with your name, and everyone expects a huge head start before fans are even settled.
Then the Hawkeyes showed in an instant why their firepower is unmatchable.
An emphatic three-minute rise into halftime saw five different Hawkeyes scores as Lisa Bluder’s squad wiped out any lingering confidence 15-seed Southeastern Louisiana could have had with one quick rise. That push at halftime propelled No. 2 seed Iowa to a runaway 95-43 victory in front of a rowdy and proud Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
With the win, the Hawkeyes advance to Sunday’s second-round game against No. 10 seed Georgia at 2 p.m. on ABC — in what is also already a sellout. The Bulldogs defeated #7 Florida State in Friday’s first game.
“It took us just a second to take a deep breath and settle into the game,” said veteran guard Kate Martin, “and then we showed that we were fine.”
Before Iowa could even think of entertaining the Dawgs, it had to avoid what it had never done before. A 15-seed has never knocked down a No. 2 in the women’s NCAA tournament. It didn’t seem like a good time for the first ever in front of a packed house waiting in line for hours.
And again, the Lady Lions never even generated a serious offense in the first half, but Carver-Hawkeye Arena was ready to rock for something even more impressive than what it witnessed. Iowa agreed with a versatile run that showcased just about everything the Hawkeyes have to offer.
“We weren’t playing to the best of our ability,” said Iowa guard Gabbie Marshall, “and we all knew that.”
It started like many of Iowa’s energy-boosting plays do, with Hannah Stuelke making an effort as bodies crashed into the pole. The Cedar Rapids Washington product provided a strong offensive board and followed with a putback to put the Hawkeyes up to 13.
Then came a nice Caitlin Clark variety pack. The probable National Player of the Year followed Stuelke’s bucket with her own layup, then swept Southeastern Louisiana in midcourt, then hit Molly Davis with a bullet pass in transition that resulted in another impressive bucket
The Lady Lions were called for an intentional foul on the play, leading to two free throws from Martin, before another Stuelke layup came to make it a 10-0 Iowa run in 70 quick seconds.
“When we do runs like that, the crowd gets super loud. That’s obviously going to confuse other teams and play to our advantage,” said Clark. “Molly leaks out and gets an en-1, things like that. That run was super important for us, and I thought we drove that through the second half.”
After a SELA trey, the Hawkeyes ended the half with two free throws from Davis and a rare layup from Addison O’Grady on another assist from Clark, putting the Hawkeyes into the locker room with a robust 54–32 advantage. The Iowa tire never fell below 20 points the rest of the way.
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Clark finished three boards short of a triple-double, with 26 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds while sitting for much of the fourth quarter. Monika Czinano added another 22 points while missing just two of her 12 shots. Stuelke’s efforts resulted in 13 points and five rebounds in just 14 minutes.
“We started rusty, but we haven’t played in two weeks,” Stuelke said. “So I think that contributed a little bit. But it was a good game to get back into it because we have a great team (we face each other) on Sunday.”
All in all, it was a boring NCAA Tournament opener for the Hawkeyes – just what they wanted. Iowa flexed his muscles at the end of the half when needed and used that momentum boost to power to the finish without drama. The focus didn’t waver late either, as Iowa’s defense held Southeast Louisiana to a whopping 11 points in the second half, including just two in the fourth.
Now comes the time for Iowa to overcome what eluded it last season. The Hawkeyes have an almost identical chance to undo Creighton’s pain and advance to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The opportunity now has Iowa’s full attention after Friday’s victory.
Dargan Southard is a trending sports reporter, covering Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org