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‘Pressure is a privilege,’ and Iowa women’s basketball harbors high expectations
4th-ranked Hawkeyes meet the media Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena
IOWA CITY — Monika Czinano was the nation’s most accurate shooter last year, at 68 percent.
A turnaround 6-footer? That’s usually money.
“I’ve made that shot hundreds of times in my life,” she said. “Maybe thousands.”
But that shot came up short in the final, frantic seconds of Iowa’s NCAA tournament second-round loss to Creighton last March.
“You can’t relive it,” she said during the Hawkeyes’ media day Thursday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “But it feeds the hunger for what was taken away from us.”
Namely, a trip to Greensboro, N.C., for what would have been a second consecutive Sweet 16.
“It was devastating,” Gabbie Marshall said Thursday. “We’ll use it as fuel. We don’t want that to happen again.”
Czinano’s miss — and two missed tip attempts by Kate Martin and McKenna Warnock — was the Hawkeyes’ bitter, final memory of 2021-22.
But the trademark was a pair of net-cutting ceremonies, one in Iowa City (after clinching a share of the Big Ten regular-season title), one in Indianapolis (after winning the Big Ten tournament).
And it was back-to-back-to-back Carver sellouts, including two in the NCAA.
The bitterness of that Creighton loss has subsided, somewhat. Summer and fall have come and gone. And now, one of the most highly-anticipated seasons in program history is on the horizon.
This opportunity, it’s why Czinano committed more than a year ago to returning for a fifth season.
“I knew for a long time before I announced it,” she said. “I was kind of blindsided when Coach (Lisa Bluder) came into the film room and first brought it up.
“It only took a few days to decide. I talked to my family and my (academic) advisor. It was so hard not to tell people.”
Here’s what Czinano is coming back to: Iowa (24-8 in 2021-22) landed a No. 4 preseason ranking by the Associated Press. The Hawkeyes are favored to repeat in the Big Ten.
All five starters are back, led by first-team All-American Caitlin Clark, who led the nation is both scoring (27.0 points per game) and assists (8.0 per game).
Czinano (21.2 ppg) was an honorable-mention All-American. Marshall, Warnock and Martin also return.
“We have a big target on our backs,” Martin said. “Everybody is going to give us their best shot, each day.”
Bluder received an autographed note from tennis legend Billie Jean King with the following message:
“Pressure is a privilege.”
Clark said, “Sometimes, you have to step back and enjoy it all. I’m going to enjoy every single second. I think we’re proving that women’s basketball is exciting. It’s fun.”
The Hawkeyes will be entertaining, for sure. Last year, they led the nation in field goal percentage (.502) and free throw percentage (.846), and were second in scoring (84.2 points per game).
“You know I’m an offensive coach, and I’m not going to sacrifice my offense completely for defense,” said Bluder, beginning her 23rd season at Iowa. “I want to improve defense, and I want to improve rebounding, but I'm not going to do that at the expense of our offense.
“We'll continue to be up-tempo.”
That style, and the star power of Clark, is reflected in season-ticket sales — more than 5,200 as of Thursday.
“Those sellouts at the end of the year last year, they were a dream come true,” Martin said. “Running onto the court with seven minutes on the clock before tipoff, seeing all of that black and gold, it gives you chills. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Clark added 8 pounds of muscle to her 6-foot frame in the offseason, putting her at 155.
“The weight room hasn’t always been a huge focus for me, but it’s something I had to do,” she said. “People were tugging on me and handling me, and the refs can’t call every one of them.
“I feel a lot stronger, and as quick as ever.”
Iowa landed a proven guard in Molly Davis through the transfer portal from Central Michigan. She will back up Clark at the point and battle for minutes at the off-guard position.
“When we (CMU) played (Iowa) in the (2021 NCAA tournament), I really loved their style,” Davis said. “They’re fast-paced. They have the best point guard in the country.”
Other newcomers include freshmen Hannah Stuelke (Cedar Rapids Washington) and Taylor McCabe (Fremont, Neb.), the 2022 Gatorade players of the year for their respective states.
Stuelke will bring athleticism and rebounding prowess; McCabe is a Melissa Dixon-like long-range sniper.
The Hawkeyes open with an exhibition game at Carver against Nebraska-Kearney next Friday, then start for real Nov. 7 at home against Southern University.
Iowa women’s basketball, 2022-23
Coach: Lisa Bluder (23rd season at Iowa, 463-242; 39th season overall, 819-384)
Last year: 24-8 (14-4 in Big Ten, T-1st), Big Ten tournament champion, NCAA tournament, 2nd round
Top returners: G Caitlin Clark (jr.), F/C Monika Czinano (5th yr.), F/G McKenna Warnock (sr.), G Kate Martin (sr.), G Gabbie Marshall (sr.)
Key newcomers: G Molly Davis (sr.), F Hannah Stuelke (fr.), G Taylor McCabe (fr.)
Schedule highlights: Oct. 28 — Nebraska-Kearney (exhibition), 6:30 p.m.; Nov. 7 — Southern University (season opener), 8:30 p.m.; Nov. 13 — at Drake, 2 p.m.; Nov. 25-27 — at Phil Knight Legacy tournament (Oregon State, Connecticut/Duke), at Portland, Ore.; Dec. 1 — North Carolina State (ACC/Big Ten Challenge), 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 4 — at Wisconsin (Big Ten opener), 1 p.m.; Dec. 7 — Iowa State, 6 p.m.; Dec. 10 — Minnesota (Big Ten home opener), 8 p.m.; Dec. 18 — UNI, 2 p.m.; Feb. 2 — Maryland, 7:30 p.m.; March 1-5 — Big Ten tournament, at Minneapolis