Opinion | Despite championship loss, Iowa women’s basketball exceeded expectations in Big Ten Tournament

Despite the 104-84 loss to Maryland in the Big Ten Tournament title game, the Hawkeyes transcended expectations.


Kate Heston

Iowa Guard Caitlin Clark (22) is seen during a quarterfinal game of the Big Ten women’s basketball tournament. Marshall reached her all time record with 27 points in one game. Iowa, ranked No. 6, took on No. 3 seeded Rutgers in Indianapolis at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse Thursday night. Iowa beat Rutgers in an upset, 73-62, advancing the Hawkeyes to take on Michigan State Friday in the Big 10 semifinals.

Chloe Peterson, Sports Reporter

At the beginning of the season, nobody thought Iowa women’s basketball was going to get this far.

The Hawkeyes had a young, inexperienced starting lineup, comprising of one freshman, three sophomores, and a junior.

Yes, the freshman is Caitlin Clark, the eventual Big Ten Freshman of the Year and unanimous All-Big Ten first-team selection. But in November, no one knew how her high school game was going to translate to the collegiate stage.

The Hawkeyes pieced together a 15-8 regular season record — 11-8 in the Big Ten — good for the six-seed in the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament.

Heading to Indianapolis on Wednesday, I thought we would be back in Iowa City by Friday afternoon — the Hawkeyes would trounce 11th-seeded Purdue but fall to No. 3 seed and 19th nationally ranked Rutgers in the quarterfinals on Thursday night.

Instead, the Hawkeyes exceeded everyone’s expectations, and rallied their way to the Big Ten championship game.

“I’m really, really, proud of our team,” junior center Monika Czinano said. “I don’t think a lot of people ever thought that we’d be playing in the championship game, and that’s so fun considering how young we are… we’re a young team who just played in a championship game, so there’s a lot of growth to be made, and a lot of fun coming up for us in future years.”

Iowa took down Rutgers in what was one of three upsets in the Big Ten quarterfinals on Thursday night, moving on to go up against seventh-seeded Michigan State in the semifinals.

Iowa’s first Big Ten road game of the 2020-21 campaign came against Michigan State in a matchup that head coach Lisa Bluder said the Spartans “caught us at a bad time.” In just its fifth game of the season on Dec. 12, Iowa’s inexperienced lineup dropped the ball, losing to Michigan State, 86-82.

RELATED: Iowa women’s basketball looks forward to NCAA Tournament

But in the Big Ten Tournament, the tide turned.

Iowa’s starting five — the same five as in December but now with a season full of experience — clicked in the semifinals, lobbing half-court passes to make easy buckets. The Hawkeyes avenged their regular season loss, beating out the Spartans, 87-72.

Then came the Goliath of Big Ten women’s basketball — Maryland.

Since joining the conference in 2014, Maryland has appeared in every single conference championship game, winning it all five times in seven appearances.

The Hawkeyes didn’t stand a chance, losing 104-84 in the title game. This season, Maryland is a Final Four-caliber team, and Iowa simply is not.

Despite the loss, Iowa found some success along the way. Czinano broke two Big Ten Tournament records in field goals made (48) and points scored in a tournament run (107). Clark dished out 37 assists throughout the tournament, good for another Big Ten record.

“I thought we played extremely well this weekend,” Bluder said after Iowa’s loss to Maryland Saturday. “We came here and made it to the championship game, and nobody would’ve thought that at the beginning of the year, maybe even at the beginning of the week.”

The season isn’t over for the Hawkeyes, as they find out their NCAA Tournament seed on Monday at 6 p.m. Iowa is projected to be a five-seed, per ESPN analyst Charlie Creme.

Better yet, all five of Iowa’s starters will be returning for the 2021-22 season. With this much success already, it’s only going to get better for Iowa women’s basketball.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.