April 2, 2023 

Iowa Hawkeyes take ‘business mentality’ into national championship game

‘We're here to hoist the trophy’

DALLAS — The Iowa Hawkeyes are taking a “business mentality” into the championship game against LSU on April 2. After celebrating the win over No. 1 overall seed South Carolina, senior McKenna Warnock knew film and preparing for LSU would follow. But the team also knows they’ve been in this position before in both the Phil Knight Legacy College Basketball Tournament and the Big Ten Tournament.

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In November, the Hawkeyes played two games in three days as part of the Phil Knight Legacy Tournament, defeating Oregon State before falling to UConn. After Caitlin Clark’s game-winning three over Indiana to end the regular season, Iowa defeated Purdue in their first win of three in three days to claim their second straight Big Ten tournament.

Much like the Big Ten Tournament, the Hawkeyes look to build off the team’s 77-73 semifinal win and keep the momentum going into the program’s first NCAA Championship game. “We’ve seen these type of situations before and so we’re just gonna use that to our advantage as much as possible,” Kate Martin said on April 1.

Before moving on to preparing for LSU, the team celebrated their win over South Carolina before returning to the hotel around 12:30 a.m. Saturday morning, Clark, who struggles to sleep after wins, couldn’t fall asleep until 2:45 a.m. However, she did manage seven hours of sleep, which she said was “good sleep” for her. Being tired or worn out Sunday afternoon isn’t a concern for her, however.

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“It’s really easy to wake up for a national championship,” Clark said. “Being tired is not going to be an issue with me. Having bruises is not going to be an issue. Being sore is not going to be an issue for anybody on our team.”

Though Martin and McKenna Warnock see similarities between South Carolina and LSU, the game plan will have to be different. Martin sees similarities between the two SEC teams in their length, athleticism and defensive prowess, but LSU’s guard play and better shooting will require a different game plan. “I feel like, again, we’re playing South Carolina almost with a little bit better shooters,” Bluder said. At her availability, Clark added, “You’ve just got to pick and choose within a scout. And coach Bluder is a very good coach about player personnel. We’re going to have a different game plan for every single team.”

Bluder and her staff are no strangers to Angel Reese and Kateri Poole, who both played in the Big Ten during the 2021-22 season. Though Bluder noted Reese is playing more freely at LSU, averaging 23.3 points per game, the third-year player is also averaging 6.5 offensive rebounds per game. Iowa was outrebounded 49-25 in its semifinal game against South Carolina, with the Gamecocks grabbing 21 more offensive rebounds, and Bluder knows her team has their work cut out for them to try to mitigate that. Though Martin hadn’t gotten the scout by the 12:20 p.m. media availability on April 1, Martin knew that boxing out would be an emphasis for the team.

Additionally, Bluder knows that opposing teams grabbing offensive rebounds leads to and-1 opportunities. “You give up the offensive rebound. They score. You’re out of position. You try to contest; you get a foul, 3-point play,” Bluder said. “Worst play in basketball, in my opinion, is the old-fashion 3-point play with a foul. We had too many of them last night. But Angel [Reese] does that. She’s able to do that. She’s so agile down there.”

Free throw shooting will also be critical for the Hawkeyes, who are 34th in the nation in free throw percentage (76.8%) and made all 14 against South Carolina on March 31. LSU is 230th in the nation in free throw percentage (69.5%) but averages nearly four more free throw attempts per game, 24.2 to Iowa’s 20.3.

The Hawkeyes enter this game trying to win their first national championship game, but they’re not just happy to be there. “We’re here to hoist the trophy. We’re here to cut down another championship net,” Clark said after Friday’s game.

Clark talks with Iowa’s sports psychologist about visualizing greatness. Before every game, she sees herself where she wants to be. She said, “See yourself hitting game-winning shots. See yourself hoisting a trophy because why can’t that be you? Because it can.”

Written by Natalie Heavren

Natalie Heavren has been a contributor to The Next since February 2019 and currently writes about the Atlantic 10 conference, the WNBA and the WBL.

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