Czinano ready to lead Iowa women’s basketball in NCAA Tournament

Junior center Monika Czinano is the only upperclassman in the starting lineup for the Hawkeyes.


Kate Heston

Iowa’s Monkia Czinano (25) takes a free throw during the championship game of the Big Ten women’s basketball tournament. Iowa, ranked No. 6, took on No. 1 seeded Maryland in Indianapolis at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse Saturday afternoon. Maryland beat Iowa, 104-84, securing their spot as the 2021 Big Ten Champions.

Chloe Peterson, Sports Reporter

SAN ANTONIO – Junior center Monika Czinano is the only Iowa women’s basketball starter that has been in the NCAA Tournament.

Because the 2020 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament was canceled because of COVID-19, sophomores McKenna Warnock, Gabbie Marshall, and Kate Martin have never experienced the Big Dance. Freshman Caitlin Clark, in her first year on the Hawkeye squad, is seeing her first collegiate national tournament as well.

So it’s up to Czinano to lead the Hawkeyes through their NCAA Tournament run.

The 6-foot-3 center will have an advantage in fifth-seeded Iowa’s first matchup against No. 12 seed Central Michigan at the Alamodome at 11 a.m., with the game being aired on ESPN.

Nobody on the Chippewas can match Czinano’s height, as their tallest player is 6-foot-1. But Czinano said the Hawkeyes still need to be on guard.

“Obviously, our four and our five, we do have a size advantage,” Czinano said. “But [Central Michigan is] going to know that, targeting that as their weakness, so they’re going to be compensating for it.”

After a strong regular season for Czinano, she continued her dominance in the Big Ten Tournament, breaking the record with 107 points scored through the duration of the tournament. She currently ranks first in the nation in field goal percentage at 67.8 percent.

“She’s a walking bucket,” head coach Lisa Bluder said. “And we need to remember to go to her because she gives us that automatic two. She’s been absolutely tremendous.”

For Czinano, the key to success is starting fresh in the postseason.

“Going into the postseason, we talked about it as a team, you kind of get to start fresh and start anew,” Czinano said. “And I think that’s just really, really exciting considering how long a collegiate season is. It’s so much fun, but it is a long time. So getting to enter that postseason stretch… it’s a good chance for the team as a whole to be like ‘We had a great regular season, but let’s start anew and make a new name for ourselves,’”

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

Central Michigan ranks 16th in the nation in scoring, averaging 77.9 points per game. Two players, guards Micaela Kelly and Molly Davis, average over 20 points per game.

“If we don’t defend the 3, we’ll be in trouble,” freshman point guard Caitlin Clark said. “But I think it’s just been such a focal point in practice in the past week, once we knew who we were going to play… they can definitely score the ball, so defense is going to be key for us.”

Although Iowa ranks second in the nation in women’s basketball in scoring offense, averaging 86.6 points per game, it ranks dead last — 336th out of 336 teams in Division I Women’s Basketball — in scoring defense, allowing an average of 80.5 points per game. Iowa also ranks 316th in field goal percentage defense with an opponent shooting percentage of 44.7 percent.

The Chippewas take 45 percent of their shots from 3-point range and have a team 3-point shooting percentage of 35.5 percent.

“They’re long range shooters,” head coach Lisa Bluder said. “Everyone gets excited about Caitlin [Clark’s] long-range threes, and I do too, but they have just that type of range on these players.

“[Central Michigan] is a team that really lives and dies by the three, and we need to have good three-point defense against them.”

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