Iowa women’s basketball finds ways to celebrate historic season after loss in national title game

Despite a loss in the national title game on Sunday, the Hawkeyes still want to recognize their historic, 31-win season.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

Iowa players wave to the fans during a 2023 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. The Hawkeyes defeated the Lions, 95-43.

Chloe Peterson, Sports Editor

DALLAS — Head coach Lisa Bluder doesn’t want her team to define its season by a national championship loss. 

Instead, she wants them to think about everything they accomplished.

“I’m just proud of them,” head coach Lisa Bluder said. “I just told them that, for them, don’t remember this. Remember that they played in a national championship game. Remember that they made it to the Final Four. And I asked them at the beginning of the year if they would have been happy playing in the National Championship Game, all of them would have.”

National champions or not, Iowa women’s basketball finished a historic season on Sunday. The Hawkeyes won a program-high 31 games in 2022-23, won the Big Ten Tournament for the second straight season, and made it to the Final Four for the first time in 30 years.

To cap it off, the Hawkeyes appeared in the national championship game for the first time in program history.

“We made history, and there’s a lot to be proud of,” junior guard Caitlin Clark said. “There’s a lot to reflect on these last couple weeks. These three weeks have been crazy, to say the least. I’m just thankful that I got to be on this journey with these people.”

The Hawkeyes had a year of firsts, starting in the preseason. Iowa was the preseason No. 4 team in the nation — the highest preseason ranking in program history.

Iowa still had some bumps and bruises along the way, including early-season losses to Kansas State, NC State, and UConn. At that point in the season, the Hawkeyes were 5-3.

Still, they weren’t going to call the season a wash.

“We played some really tough games at the beginning of the season,” Clark said Saturday ahead of the national championship game. “NC State, UConn, Oregon State are not easy teams to play. We traveled to Kansas State; lose there. Just a long list of really tremendous teams. That’s all you can ask is to be put in those situations, and those are the games you want to play in. But that wasn’t Iowa basketball.”

As the season went on, the Hawkeyes got back to their brand of Iowa basketball. Going into the final week of the regular season, Iowa had won 10 of its last 11 games and were in contention to become Big Ten regular season champions for the second straight season.

Then, Maryland stopped the party. 

The Hawkeyes were unprepared for their trip to College Park, Maryland, on Feb. 21 taking a 28-point loss to the Terrapins, 96-68.

Iowa took that loss as a wake-up call. And it showed the Hawkeyes the one thing they were missing: how to get past every type of defense.

And the Hawkeyes used that knowledge to win nine straight games leading up to the national championship.

“I think that was a huge point for us,” Bluder said ahead of the title game Saturday. “We got embarrassed there. We came back and went to work. I mean, [Maryland coach Brenda Frese] did a great job of having a defense we hadn’t seen. Louisville tried it [in the Elite Eight], and now we’re ready for it. So, I thank her. If it wasn’t for that, we might not have been ready for that down the line.”

When Iowa made it to the Final Four, it had a formidable opponent: undefeated defending champion South Carolina, who had a 42-game win streak.

The Gamecocks were favorites to repeat as national champions, and betting lines favored South Carolina over Iowa by 11.5 points. But the Hawkeyes beat the odds, taking down the Gamecocks, 77-73.

Although Iowa took a 17-point loss to LSU, 102-85, in the title game, the Hawkeyes know they have a lot to celebrate this season.

“It’s been an incredible season,” senior Kate Martin, who is returning for a fifth year in 2023-24, said. “I think that’ll set in a little more after the hurt dies off. But we have a lot to be proud of. … I’m super proud of everything that this team has accomplished. We’ve played with joy, we’ve played with passion, we’ve played together.”