Balanced scoring and surprising defense carry Iowa over CMU

McKenna Warnock soars for the bucket. Iowa Athletics photo.

Iowa’s scoring depth was on display Sunday, in their first-round win in the NCAA Tournament.

In the opening game of the tourney Sunday, four Hawkeyes scored in double figures to pace them past Central Michigan, 87-72. Freshmen phenom Caitlin Clark, the nation’s leading scorer, and junior Monica Czinano, the nation’s field goal percentage leader, each had 23 points for an squad ranked second in the country in scoring. McKenna Warnock scored 11 of her 13 points in the third quarter and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Kate Martin also had 13 points.

Iowa is not known for defense. The team ranked 316th out of 336 teams in field goal percentage defense entering the Tournament. But against the high-scoring Chippewas, the Hawkeyes held them to almost 10 points below their 45.9 percent scoring average.

Central Michigan leading scorer Micaela Kelly was charged with three fouls in the first 12 minutes of the game. She played just eight minutes in the first half, but scored 15 points. She had been charged with guarding Clark, but when she reentered the game, she had to switch players and back off her defensive intensity.

“[The foul situation] was big because she’s obviously their number one scorer,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “We got her into foul trouble, I thought that was tremendous and put her on the bench.”

“It’s the easiest way to guard somebody is when you get them in foul trouble. We tried to get a couple more on her and were unsuccessful, so we kind of took the focus off that after a while. But I’m really happy our team you know she had 21 in the first half [actually, the first three quarters]. She only had two in the second half [fourth quarter], so I’m very proud of the [defensive] effort in the second half to identify her and try to help on that.”

Clark acknowledged that her needs to improve defensively, but was pleased with the team defensive effort.

Caitlin Clark prepares to dish an assist. Iowa Athletics photo.

“They’re a great team; they can score the ball on offense, so we knew it would be a challenge there,” she said. “I think in the second half we did a lot better on Kelly. I think she only had two points [in the fourth quarter] so that’s definitely encouraging.”

“But they have multiple weapons and I think their other players stepped up, but we knew we had to lock down and get stops especially there in the fourth quarter. I think that’s exactly what we did.”

Kelly’s foul trouble clearly affected the Chippewa’s flow, both offensively and defensively. Coach Heather Oesterle was not pleased.

“I thought that was the difference in the game to be very honest,” Oesterle said. “I never, you know, I try not to complain to the officials, but when you take my best player out with three fouls in the first quarter, that obviously affected us. I thought we had momentum to start the game, we were scoring we’re moving the ball, and then you take Micaela Kelly out of the game.”

“At this point in the season, it hurts us. . . . You look at the second half, we played within two points of them in both the third and the fourth quarter with her back in there. . . . Our team, it runs around Micaela and runs around Molly Davis and when one of them’s out we really struggle. . . .I was hoping to have, you know, ‘Twin’ [Kelly] play 35-40 minutes today, and I felt like some of those calls were a little cheap.”

As Iowa contemplates their Monday contest against No. 4 Kentucky – 71-63 winners over Idaho State – they will need to play much crisper basketball. They missed multiple open layups on fast breaks in this contest, and an athletic Wildcat team will severely challenge the impression that the Hawkeyes have learned to play defense.