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Georgia-Iowa in Round 2 of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament: ‘The lights are on and it's time to show up’
A trip to Seattle for the Sweet 16 awaits the winner
IOWA CITY — Always high-scoring. Always entertaining.
If there was a knock on the Iowa women’s basketball program in recent years, it was that they could be pushed around. Bullied.
As the third-ranked Hawkeyes (27-6) prepare for their NCAA tournament second-round encounter with Georgia (22-11), they feel they are more equipped now to match muscle, and to push back.
“I would say for sure,” senior guard Gabbie Marshall said. “We've faced teams that are physical and tough, and we're just going to have to play through it and play through the toughness and be gritty on defense.”
Or, as Kate Martin said: Bring on the chaos.
“(Georgia is) going to push you around a little bit,” Martin said. “Their (zone defense) is kind of chaotic, not a lot of rhyme or reason to it. But the middle can be open.”
Tipoff is 2 p.m. in front of a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The game will be telecast nationally by ABC.
Iowa is an 11-point favorite to advance to Seattle next week for the Sweet 16.
To do so, the Hawkeyes will have to absorb some body blows. To be succinct, they’ll need to be strong. Tough.
“I think valuing the ball will be very important,” Iowa’s Caitlin Clark said. “Shot fakes against a team that is more athletic, bigger, longer than us.
“At the same time, I'm not sure they've seen a team that has as many shooters as we do on the perimeter.”
So, yeah, this is absolutely a contrast of styles.
A track meet favors the Hawkeyes, who lead the nation in scoring at 87.5 points per game. A slog plays into the hands of the Bulldogs, who allow 58.4 points per contest.
“They can be physical,” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said of the Bulldogs. “They have a lot of fouls to give. The more we can shoot the 3, the more they’ll have to spread out their zone.”
Without a doubt, Iowa will have the best player on the floor in Clark. The national-player-of-the-year front-runner averages 27.0 points, 7.5 rebounds and a nation’s-best 8.5 assists per game.
“Caitlin is a great player and does a lot for her team,” Georgia’s Diamond Battles said. “She disrupts, she makes you change your game plan and everything.”
A Cedar Rapids native, Georgia Coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson has her fourth different school in the NCAA tournament (she previously took Missouri State, Albany and Central Florida into March Madness).
She is in her first year in Athens and reloaded the program quickly.
“I don't think anybody in their right mind would have ever thought our team would have been here, signing 10 portal kids,” she said. “Ten, that’s a lot.”
Win or lose, Iowa’s Monika Czinano and McKenna Warnock will play their final games at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday. Czinano ranks third all-time at Iowa in scoring, with 2,338 points; Warnock is 30th, with 1,220.
“Right now, it’s all business,” Warnock said.
Czinano was a little more reflective:
“It’s special to think about,” she said. “This place has given me so much, so I want to protect it.”
This will be Iowa’s third consecutive sellout. The Hawkeyes aren’t the only ones eager for the noise.
“Every athlete lives for this moment, whether they are cheering for you or cheering against you,” Battles said. “You get to play in front of a sold-out arena, who wouldn't want to do that?
“The lights are on and it's time to show up.”