No. 2 seed Iowa women’s basketball focuses on No. 10 seed Georgia’s defense in NCAA Tournament second-round matchup

The Bulldogs play a scrappy, size-dependent zone defense — but that’s familiar to the Hawkeyes.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark shoots a three point shot during a 2022 NCAA First Round women’s basketball game between No. 2 Iowa and No. 16 Southeastern Louisiana in sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, March 16, 2023.

Colin Votzmeyer, Sports Reporter

The 10th-seeded Georgia Bulldogs’ zone defense will be a primary focus for the red-hot shooters of the second-seeded Iowa women’s basketball team in Sunday’s second-round NCAA Tournament matchup.

The Hawkeyes and Bulldogs tip off at 2 p.m. inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Sunday in the NCAA Tournament round of 32. The winner will advance to Seattle for the Sweet 16.

“Obviously, glad to be in the field of 32 playing Georgia tomorrow,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. “We know Georgia. A tremendous team … They have lots of depth at the post, so they’re going to be a real difficult challenge.”

But the Hawkeyes are familiar with that zone defense. 

Before Georgia head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson — a Cedar Rapids native — took the position with the Bulldogs this season, she was the head coach at Central Florida where she ran the same zone defense. Iowa matched up against UCF on Dec. 18, 2021, last season, escaping with a 69-61 win as they shot 22-for-51 from the field and 8-of-24 from three.

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“I think having that familiarity gives us a bit of some confidence that we have gone up against this before,” Iowa junior guard Caitlin Clark said. “We have quite a few zone offenses that we’ll run, and we’ll try to switch it up as much as we can.”

Playing a zone defense as opposed to man-to-man naturally opens the perimeter up for 3-point shots, and that’s where Iowa excels. Four Hawkeye starters are shooting 37 percent and above from deep, with seniors McKenna Warnock and Kate Martin both leading the way with 39 percent.

“It’s hard to pick your poison with this [Iowa] team,” Clark said. “There’s only so much you can do, but I don’t know if they’ve really seen a team that has four consistent shooters on the perimeter like we do.”

Clark leads the way from beyond the arc, taking the bulk of the team’s threes yet maintaining a 38 percent three-point shooting percentage.

The sole outlier from deep is fifth-year senior center Monika Czinano, who opts to score in the paint. Even with her 6-foot-3 stature, the Bulldogs are taller — they boast five players in their rotation at 6-foot-2 and above. 

“I think just like any other team, we’re just going to do the best that we can,” said freshman center Hannah Stuelke, who comes off the bench at a height of 6-foot-2. “We’re going to do some extra stuff on the post. They are very athletic and a very good team, but I think we got it in the bag.”

Defense will be just as important for the Hawkeyes, especially with the Bulldogs’ size and post depth. With great size comes great rebounding ability, so securing defensive boards will be crucial if the Hawkeyes want to see the Sweet 16

“I think that’s something we always preach,” Clark said. “They’re definitely a team that hangs their hat on getting second-chance opportunities, crashing the boards hard, so it’s definitely a key to the game.”

But the two-three zone might also be a good option for Iowa because Georgia struggles from beyond the arc, averaging just three 3-pointers made per game. 

“Depending who goes in the game, you may see [Bluder] pull out a different defense,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “It’s going to be a chess match I think the whole game, and I think she’s really good at that.”