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The spark for Iowa’s late-season run came in a lopsided loss at Maryland
The window for a run to the Final Four is wide-open for the Hawkeyes, who face Colorado in the Seattle Region 4 semifinals Friday night
SEATTLE — They were whipped, humbled and embarrassed.
“When you get 30-pieced on the road, it's not fun,” Monika Czinano said.
Not fun. But maybe necessary.
When Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder was asked Thursday for a season-defining moment, she didn’t point to any of the Hawkeyes’ 28 victories.
“I think the spark was actually our Maryland loss (96-68, Feb. 21),” Bluder said. “It didn't bring us back to reality, because my team was never cocky or anything like that. But it sure like gave us a focus.”
Since that whipping, more than a month has passed. Iowa has won six straight games, two against top-10 teams. The Hawkeyes beat Indiana at the buzzer, avenged the loss to Maryland, stomped Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament final and reached the Sweet 16.
And that’s where we stand today.
Its window wide-open for a first Final Four women’s basketball appearance since 1993, third-ranked Iowa (28-6) faces No. 21 Colorado (25-8) in a Seattle Region 4 semifinal Friday.
Tipoff is 6:30 p.m. (CT) at Climate Pledge Arena.
The Hawkeyes believe that they are here, at least partially, as a result of what happened in that messy game at College Park.
“I think that loss kind of stung a bit,” Caitlin Clark said. “We knew we needed to change some things.”
Bluder, who preaches culture and chemistry anyway, used that rout as an opportunity to tighten the Hawkeyes’ circle.
“It brought us a little bit closer together, for some reason,” she said. “I think it even brought us even tighter.”
The Hawkeyes are 5 1/2-point favorites to win Friday and reach their fourth Elite Eight.
In the other semifinal, at 9 p.m., Louisville (25-11) meets Mississippi (25-8).
The regional final is 8 p.m. Sunday, with the survivor advancing to Dallas and the Final Four next week.
Iowa is back at full strength. Hannah Stuelke, who missed the second-round win over Georgia with a sprained right ankle, was at full-go in practice Thursday.
“I’ve done a lot of stuff, needling, pool work,” she said. “Trying to get better, and it worked. Our trainer is amazing.”
While the Hawkeyes successfully defended their home court in the first two rounds, the other three teams in Seattle Region 4 took the longer path to the Pacific Northwest.
Colorado knocked off 3-seed Duke in overtime at Durham. Ole Miss tripped top-seed Stanford, and Louisville toppled 4-seed Texas.
“Seeing parity in women’s basketball is tremendous for the game,” Bluder said. “It’s fun to watch for the casual fan.
“There’s a deeper talent pool now. TV exposure has helped a lot since the Big Ten Network came on the scene. And the transfer portal has changed things.”
Iowa has been the model of stability for the better part of three seasons. The Hawkeyes’ starting five — Clark, Czinano, McKenna Warnock, Kate Martin and Gabbie Marshall — have started 88 games together, the most of any unit at any school since 2000.
One of those games was an abnormal 2021 Sweet 16, with limited media and fans.
“Yeah, I mean, obviously this is really new, so I think it's a learning experience for all of us,” Clark said.
Colorado, meanwhile, has advanced to the second weekend for the first time since 2003.
Of course, Clark (26.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.6 assists per game) is atop the Buffaloes’ scouting report.
“There’s not any one thing you can do to stop her. She has probably had so many defenses thrown at her,” CU’s Jaylyn Sherrod said.