Iowa women’s basketball set for nationally televised showdown with UConn

The fifth-seeded Hawkeyes will take on No. 1 UConn at noon on Saturday on ABC.


Hannah Kinson

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark dribbles toward the basket during the second round of the NCAA women’s basketball championship against No. 4 Kentucky on Tuesday, March 23, 2021 at the Bill Greehey Arena at Saint Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. The Hawkeyes defeated the Wildcats, 86-72. No. 5 Iowa will go on to play the winner of tonight’s 8 p.m. game between No. 1 UConn and No. 8 Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen starting on Saturday.

Chloe Peterson, Sports Reporter

When the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament bracket was released on March 15, Iowa women’s basketball head coach Lisa Bluder wasn’t surprised to see the University of Connecticut at the top of the River Walk Region — the same portion of the bracket No. 5 seed Iowa resides in.

“I kind of had an inkling that they were going to do that, quite honestly,” Bluder said March 15. “I know we have two really tough [first and second round] games, but everybody would like to have a Caitlin [Clark]-Paige [Bueckers] matchup.”

Iowa got through its first two games in dominant fashion, taking down 12th-seeded Central Michigan in the first round, 87-72, and then No. 4 seed Kentucky in the second round, 86-72.

Now, Iowa has a date with UConn in the Sweet 16.

Clark and Bueckers — both award-winning freshman point guards — are the two frontrunners for the National Player of the Year award.

But they don’t see it that way.

“I don’t think me and Paige really care who wins freshman of the year,” Clark said. “Obviously, we’ve both had great respective seasons … but I think that’s so great for the women’s game. More people are noticing, more and more people will be tuning in to watch this game.”

The standout freshmen will face off against each other as fifth-seeded Iowa will take on No. 1 UConn on Saturday at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. Tipoff is set for noon, and the game will air on ABC.

Bueckers and Clark — the former No. 1 and No. 4 high school women’s basketball recruits in the nation, respectively — have both made an immediate impact on their college teams.

RELATED: We knew that she was the special one’: Caitlin Clark dominating in her first season with the Iowa women’s basketball team

Clark leads the nation in points, with 778 over 29 games — good for a 26.8 points per game average.

Bueckers, on the other hand, leads a 26-1 UConn squad. She is her team’s leading scorer at 19.9 points per game.

The pair played together multiple times in middle and high school on the U16 and U19 USA Basketball teams, winning two international gold medals together.

Despite neither Clark nor Bueckers starting at point guard during their time with Team USA, Clark knows Bueckers’ style of play more than any other Hawkeye. But Clark also understands that Bueckers can’t do it alone, as she has an array of Huskie teammates ready and willing to make an impact.

“Obviously, I’ve watched Paige play for a while,” Clark said. “But it’s not going to be an individual matchup with her, it will be a whole-team effort more than anything. We’ll try to run a lot of different things at her, but UConn has more than just Paige, and I think that’s the biggest thing. You have to control the rest of the team too.”

UConn’s explosive offensive — that ranks fourth in the nation at 82.8 points per game — will be the ultimate test for an Iowa defense that has struggled all season.

Currently, the Hawkeyes’ scoring defense ranks last the NCAA. Iowa’s defense has allowed approximately 80 points per game this season.

So, Iowa has relied on its second-in-the-nation offense throughout the season. On the year, the Hawkeyes have put up about 86.6 points per game.

“I think our defense has been much better,” Bluder said. “And I think that’s a sign of growth and maturity with a really young basketball team. We don’t have a senior in our starting lineup … I think if you start going away from what you’ve been doing and what’s got you here, that can cause problems. So, we have to do what’s gotten us here, and that is, we like to score quickly.”