Electric Youth: Hawkeyes’ Comeback Shows Their Maturity

By John Bohnenkamp

IOWA CITY — Stop calling them young.

OK, check the ages of the Iowa women’s basketball team and yes, going from that, the Hawkeyes are young.

But, when you come back from 18 points down early in the second half, 17 points with 9 ½ minutes to go, well, you’re going to grow up in a hurry.

Iowa’s 82-80 win over Iowa State on Wednesday night was all about the Hawkeyes’ maturity.

Card them at the door if you want. They’ve aged quite well.

“Everybody keeps telling us we’re a young team,” said junior center Monika Czinano. “At every angle we’re being told, ‘You’re so young.’ In our circle, we do what we need to do. It doesn’t matter that we’re young. At the end of the day, we want to win. With that comes kind of having to mature on the fly.

“I think this game helped us grow.”

The winning shot came from Caitlin Clark, a freshman guard who has been so dominant so early in this season, it feels like she’s been here forever.

The defensive stop to win the game came from third-year sophomore Kate Martin.

The 26 fourth-quarter points came from Clark, Martin, Czinano and sophomore McKenna Warnock. All of them scored during Iowa’s 17-0 run that tied the game.

“Everybody stepped up and made big plays for us,” said Clark, who had 26 of her 34 points in the second half, the last coming on her 3-pointer with 22 seconds left that was the game-winner.

The Hawkeyes led for just one minute the entire game.

“But at least we picked the right minute,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said.

Iowa (4-0) extended its home winning streak to 39 games, the second longest current streak in the nation. It was the fifth consecutive win over the Cyclones (2-3).

The Hawkeyes swept the in-state series, defeating Northern Iowa and Iowa State at home, and Drake on the road.

“Which is something I told the kids today,” Bluder said. “‘You don’t get to hang a banner for being state champions. But it sure means a lot for your pride, your pride for your year.’”

Bluder, though, then spent three quarters of exasperation as the Cyclones dominated. They led 49-35 at halftime and 73-56 at the end of the third quarter.

It was at that point that a wise voice spoke. Associate head coach Jan Jensen, who has been on Bluder’s staff at Iowa for all 21 seasons, had a message in the huddle.

“‘This is the moment. Empty the tank. Give all you have right here. That way, no matter what happens, at least you gave it your all,’” Czinano recalled. “I think each of us did that.

“I think the second you believe you’re going to lose, you start to lose.”

The Hawkeyes then smothered the Cyclones’ offense. Iowa State would score just seven points in the final quarter, getting just 10 shots while turning the ball over six times.

“They defended better,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “We had some shots I’d take again. We didn’t make them.”

“We weren’t playing the same way as the first three quarters,” said guard Ashley Joens, who had 35 points for the game but just five in the fourth quarter. “And they recognized it.”

“I think our mentality just changed,” Martin said. “Everybody just locked down. We just told each other, ‘We’re not going to let them score.’”

Bluder said the comeback was “like a snowball getting bigger and bigger. You could see our confidence growing.”

“Pure bliss,” Czinano said of the comeback. “It felt so good every time one of my teammates got a stop. It was a huge adrenaline rush. I could feel us chipping away.

“I’m not going to lie. I didn’t even realize how much we were chipping away. I just looked up (at the scoreboard) and we were down by three and I was like, ‘Oh, we’re in this. Let’s go.’ “

Clark, who had her moments of exasperation as well, took over, as she’s been doing all season. She was 5-of-9 shooting, 4-of-6 in 3-pointers, in the fourth quarter.

Three of those 3-pointers came in that crucial run, but she had a miss that provided one of the game’s bigger moments.

Iowa trailed 75-72 when Clark’s 3-point attempt was short. But Martin roared toward the basket, cutting between two Cyclones for the rebound to keep the possession going. Sixteen seconds later, she hit the 3-pointer to tie the game.

“It’s like they were fueling each other,” Bluder said. “The offense was fueling the defense, the defense was fueling the offense. They just got confidence, and that was really nice to see, because our confidence wasn’t good, I think, earlier in the game.

“It was nice to see in the fourth quarter that they kept believing, and turned it around.”

There were four lead changes in the final 2:28, the last one coming on the Clark game-winning three.

She was heavily defended by Iowa State’s Madison Wise, but stepped back and got enough room to shoot.

“Super confident,” Clark said of the final shot. “If you’re going to take that shot, you better be confident.”

“I don’t think we’re ever out of a game with the ball in her hands,” Bluder said of Clark, who is averaging 28.5 points to start the season. “Those are NBA threes. Those are not easy threes, you guys.

“She believes in herself. That’s a good thing. You want that confidence.”

“I think what speaks volumes is she wasn’t really hitting in the beginning, came back, had confidence in herself, hit major, major shots for us down the stretch,” Czinano said.

Iowa State still had a chance. Joens cut to the basket and ran into Martin, who stopped any momentum. By the time Joens could get a shot up, time ran out.

And as the buzzer sounded, the Hawkeyes turned the court into a party.

The kids who grew up in one quarter went back to being kids again.

“This is going to sound like one of those coaching cliches and I hate that,” Bluder said. “But they have grit. They play with that chip on their shoulder. They want that respect. They deserve it.

“You don’t win a game like this without mental and physical toughness. You just don’t do it.”

It’s a team that feels older, and wiser. And it’s only four games into the season.

“I think this really gives us the confidence we need, that no matter what we can battle back, we can shoot back, we can work back,” Czinano said. “It’s not over. It’s never over.”

Photo: Iowa’s Caitlin Clark celebrates after her 3-pointer with 22 seconds left gave the Hawkeyes an 82-80 win over Iowa State. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)

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