By John Bohnenkamp
Iowa’s women’s basketball team had one of the best offenses in the nation last season, which is why the Hawkeyes reached the NCAA tournament regional semifinals.
The Hawkeyes also had one of the nation’s worst defenses, and that’s something they know they have to clean up if they want to make a longer run this season.
“I think I speak for the entire team when I say every single one of us is working on defense extensively,” senior center Monika Czinano said at Thursday’s media day. “I think it’s just getting better as a whole. Anything we can do.”
The Hawkeyes led the nation in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage, and ranked second in scoring offense, averaging 86.1 points per game.
But they were 336th in scoring defense, 315th in field goal percentage defense, and 302nd in turnovers forced.
Iowa went 20-10 overall, but the Hawkeyes knew they left some wins behind because of their inability to stop the other team.
“Well, we did make some schematic changes, a few things, but also it’s just kind of more of an emphasis,” coach Lisa Bluder said. “A buy-in from the players that … I think they understand that we got to the Sweet 16 with a tremendous offense, but we could have gone farther if we had had a good defense, as well. They want to go farther. They know that’s what’s hindering us from making that advancement. I think the buy-in from them is also very key.”
“We have practices where we work on offense for 10 minutes,” Czinano said. “All of the rest of it was defense.”
Asked what the Hawkeyes need to do better defensively, guard Kate Martin, the team’s best defender, just smiled before giving the answer.
“You know what? It’s everything,” Martin said with a laugh. “We really talk about forcing hard (two-point shots), having great help-side defense, finishing with the box-out, getting rebounds.”
“I think it’s straight-up caring about it, for all of us,” said guard Caitlin Clark, a consensus All-American last season as a freshman. “It’s wanting to be good at defense. I don’t think that was always really in the back of our minds. We knew could outscore every single (team) — if they scored 90, we could score 93 on them. But we don’t want to do that this year. We want to make it easier for ourselves.”
The Hawkeyes, who open the season at No. 9 in the Associated Press poll, bring back every starter from last season while adding guard Kylie Feuerbach, who started 24 games for Iowa State last season as a freshman.
“I think the experience helps, but we’re not used to being the hunted, right?” Bluder said. “We’re not used to that. Sometimes I feel like we play a little bit better with a chip on our shoulder and people not expecting a lot out of us. We’ve talked about that as a team, that we have to change our mentality a little bit and try to … I hate that cliche, but it’s true, be the hunter and not the hunted.
“It is a mental change that you have to do.”
That mentality change starts with defense.
“It’s just going to be hard-nosed — who is going to shut down this player?” Martin said. “That’s something I’ve really tried to interpret in my basketball skills. Being hard nosed. ‘This person isn’t going to score.’”
“I think a lot of it is just switching our focus a little bit,” Czinano said. “We’re so offensive oriented. I think a lot of it was knowing, like, OK, in order for us to go far we have to take defense way more seriously than we ever have. Just kind of flipping the mindset.”
“I think, 100 percent, it’s really caring,” Clark said.
Photo: Iowa’s Caitlin Clark guards Kentucky’s Chasity Patterson in last season’s NCAA Tournament. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)