Defense pivotal in Iowa women’s basketball team’s NCAA Tournament first round victory over Illinois State

The Hawkeyes, who allow an average of 70.8 points per game in 2021-22, held the Redbirds to just 58 points on Friday night.


Grace Smith

Illinois State forward DeAnna Wilson attempts to go up for a shot during a First Round NCAA women’s basketball tournament game against No. 2 Iowa and No. 15 Illinois State in sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, March 18, 2022. Wilson shot 3-of-7 in field goals. The Hawkeyes defeated the Redbirds, 98-58, advancing themselves to the second round of the tournament.

Dawson Moore, Sports Reporter

The second-seeded Iowa women’s basketball team showed stout defense in its 40-point victory over 15th-seeded Illinois State on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Defense has been a focus for Iowa women’s basketball in the 2021-22 season after allowing 80.3 points per game in 2020-21 — last in Division I women’s basketball. This season, Iowa is 308th in the country in scoring defense, allowing 70.8 points per game.

The Hawkeyes moved on to the second round of the tournament after allowing just 58 total points from the Redbirds in their 98-58 victory. Iowa smothered any offensive push Illinois State attempted, holding the Redbirds to 29 percent shooting from the field.

Only two Illinois State players ended in double figures: fifth-year senior guard JuJu Redmond had 25 points, while junior Mary Crompton scored 11.

“I thought our zone [defense] was really good,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said postgame. “It’s great, because at the beginning of the year our zone wasn’t very good. It was something we could not really use. Now, in the Big Ten Tournament and here, we’ve been able to use our zone and that protects our legs a little bit as well. You don’t have to play all those screens, so I was really happy with that.”

The Hawkeyes protected the paint against the Redbirds as well, allowing 20 points while blocking four shots. Iowa junior guard Kate Martin tied a career-high with three blocks. 

Freshman Addison O’Grady’s also made her presence felt down low, using her 6-foot-4 frame to force the Redbirds to take difficult shots.

“I’m really happy with the way that she’s developing, and I think she alters some shots defensively,” Bluder said of O’Grady. “She’s the tallest woman on our team, and when they’re going up against the zone and having them shoot over her, you can see them altering their shots and that’s a good thing for us.”

The Hawkeyes also forced the Redbirds to turn the ball over, racking up 10 steals. Sophomore Caitlin Clark and junior Gabbie Marshall both finished with three steals each. Iowa scored 23 points off of the Redbirds’ 13 total turnovers.

The forced turnovers led to more transition offense for the Hawkeyes as they scored 24 fastbreak points. Iowa only gave up two points in transition.

“Obviously, defending in transition is an area that we can still improve on, so it’s great to hear that we only gave up two points in transition,” Clark said. “Overall, our transition offense, when we’re doing it the way we should, when we get stops on the defensive end, that just leads to our transition offense. So, hands down our best offense and that’s what we like to get to most.”

Iowa will take on 10th-seeded Creighton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. 

Creighton is coming off an 84-74 victory over No. 10 seed Colorado at Carver on Friday. Junior guard Morgan Maly led the Bluejays with 20 points. The winner of Iowa-Creighton will move on to the Sweet 16 in Greensboro, North Carolina.