Iowa women’s basketball looking to be a Big Ten contender

The Hawkeyes’ now-experienced roster is looking to compete in a stout conference.


Chloe Peterson, Assistant Sports Editor

Iowa women’s basketball is returning all five of its starters for the 2021-22 season, but the Hawkeyes aren’t the only team in the Big Ten with a strong veteran lineup.

Reigning Big Ten regular season and tournament champion Maryland is returning all five of its starters and 93 percent of scoring.

Indiana, the only conference team to advance to the Elite Eight in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, is returning its top eight scorers — including five starters.

“The league is the deepest it’s ever been,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said at Big Ten Basketball Media Days on Oct. 7. “We’re not going to know the outcome, you know, to be able to see just the experience and the talent level. Whether you come in as a freshman, or have experience through the years, every game is a battle.”

Multiple players around the conference took advantage of the NCAA’s free year of eligibility, which was given to all 2020-21 student athletes because of COVID-19 — including Indiana guard Ali Patberg, who is returning for her seventh season of college basketball. She is currently the Hoosiers’ third all-time leader in assists.

So, although Iowa’s five 2020-21 starters — guards Caitlin Clark, Kate Martin, and Gabbie Marshall, forward McKenna Warnock, and center Monika Czinano — will be back at Carver-Hawkeye Arena again this season, head coach Lisa Bluder doesn’t see it as a strong point of the lineup.

“I think it’s great to have everybody back, but I look around the league and I think, ‘Everybody’s got everybody back,’” Bluder said. “And it feels like nobody graduated, nobody left last year. So, even though we have all five starters back, I don’t know that it’s that special, because it seems like a lot of people have that type of advantage this year.”

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Maryland is likely Iowa’s main source of competition for the 2021-22 season. The Terrapins edged Iowa in the 2021 Big Ten Tournament Championship Game, 104-84. Since joining the conference in the 2014-15 season, the Terrapins have won five conference tournament titles in seven attempts and have appeared in every league championship game.

The Terrapins ranked first in Division I Women’s Basketball in scoring in 2020-21, with an average of 90.8 points per game. Maryland also has a stout defense, allowing just 69 points per game.

“They’re just so good,” Bluder said of Maryland. “And they’re so big too. And I think Brenda does a great job. I mean, she led the country in points [last season] but her defense is very, very good as well. And that’s what we’re trying to get to, is that we have to play both sides of the basketball like they do in order for us to compete against them. But they’ve done a great job.”

The Hawkeyes ranked second in the nation in offensive scoring in 2020-21, averaging 86.1 points per game through 30 contests. But Iowa’s defense struggled last season, ranking 336th out of 336 teams with an average of 80.3 points per game. 

Ahead of the 2021-22 season, the Hawkeyes’ focus has been on improving their defensive abilities while still maintaining their offensive production.

“Ninety-nine percent of our scoring comes back,” Clark said. “Keeping that the same, then obviously improving the areas that we need to. I mean, this conference is the best, so we’re gonna be going up against the best every single night. But we have the talent and the pieces around us to be right there with them, if not the best.”