March 25, 2023 

Iowa’s supporting cast pushes Hawkeyes one step closer to Final Four

McKenna Warnock, Kate Martin and Gabbie Marshall are key reasons behind Iowa's success

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark sat on the bench with two fouls. It was just the start of the second quarter, but she looked prepared to sprint onto the floor at a wave of head coach Lisa Bluder’s finger. When there’s a basketball game happening in front of her, she can’t not take part. 

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But playing Clark at that point was just too risky.

Iowa had a 23-22 lead in a Sweet 16 game against Colorado, but with Clark on the bench, Colorado could’ve taken control and put the Hawkeyes on their heels.

Instead, Iowa center/forward Monika Czinano converted a layup off a pretty pass from guard Kate Martin. Then Martin knocked down a 3-pointer and guard Molly Davis swished home a baseline floater. Iowa 30, Colorado 27.

“No Clark, no problem” probably isn’t the appropriate colloquialism — after all, she does average 26.9 points, 8.5 assists and 7.2 rebounds per game — but that two-minute stretch with Clark on the bench showed why Iowa is Elite Eight-bound after an 87-77 win on Friday.

Clark is an elite shooter, an elite passer and the unquestioned heartbeat of the team. Czinano, who had 15 points and seven rebounds on Friday, follows closely behind. Yet the contributions of Martin, Davis, guard/forward McKenna Warnock and guard Gabbie Marshall make the Hawkeyes an incredible challenge to slow down.

In Friday’s win, Martin led Iowa in plus/minus at plus-17 and had 16 points, six rebounds and three assists. Warnock had 12 points, four boards and two assists, and Marshall had seven points, three assists and two rebounds.

None of those numbers jump off the page like Clark’s 31-point, eight-assist performance. But without them, Iowa doesn’t beat Colorado.

In last season’s upset loss to No. 10 seed Creighton in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Iowa’s home court, no Hawkeye besides Clark and Czinano scored in double figures. In fact, no other player had more than six points.

Friday highlighted the team’s tremendous growth. Iowa returned all five starters from last season, and their experience has only made them a more cohesive unit.

“It’s so helpful,” Czinano told The Next in January about the roster continuity. “We just know what each other does down to a T. I could write a scout on the whole team, and it would be very, very accurate. We just know each other so well, but more than that, if you stay together more than the opponent, you’re going to win a decent amount of games, just with that fact alone.”

Against Maryland on Feb. 23, the Hawkeyes lost 96-68. Iowa had just 14 assists against 24 turnovers. It was about as disastrous a loss as a team could have that late in the season.

Yet something resonated with that group that allowed them to stay the course. They’d been there before. They knew their goals were still possible and trusted each other to rediscover that gear that makes them so unstoppable. And it was going to have to be more than just Clark and Czinano.

“After that Maryland game at Maryland, we knew that we had to step up and we had to knock down shots,” Marshall told reporters on Thursday. “They were focusing on Monika and Caitlin, and the supporting cast had to step up. So I think we’ve done a great job at it, and Monika and Caitlin are great at finding us and giving us the confidence to knock down the shots when we’re open.”

In three NCAA Tournament games this season, Marshall is shooting 45% from the field and 43.8% from beyond the arc; Warnock’s is making 70% of her 2-pointers and has 20 rebounds; and Martin has made four 3-pointers on 10 attempts while averaging four rebounds and three assists per game.

“It’s when we’re at our best,” Bluder said after Friday’s win of the balanced contributions. “… We scored more points than anybody has all year against [Colorado’s] defense. Their defense is very good, but we were still able to shoot over 50% from the field. You do that when you’re having the balance of the four people in double figures. I think that’s when it’s really special.”

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The Hawkeyes’ journey thus far might seem inevitable for a team that has a player as dominant as Clark. But in the previous two tournaments Clark has played in, Iowa lost to UConn by 20 in the Sweet 16 and in the second round to Creighton. Its regular-season and Big Ten Tournament dominance didn’t translate to NCAA Tournament success.

This ride has transpired differently. Clark has played well, but she’s had a full supporting cast around her, too. Now, Iowa is one win away from where the program believes it belongs: the Final Four.

Written by Eric Rynston-Lobel

Eric Rynston-Lobel has been a contributor to The Next since August 2022. He covered Northwestern women's basketball extensively in his four years as a student there for WNUR and now works as a sports reporter for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire.

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