By John Bohnenkamp
The six-game winning streak for the Iowa women’s basketball team is all about the assists.
The Hawkeyes are coming off a record-setting 37 assists in Tuesday’s 107-79 win at Penn State.
The total was the highest single-game mark in program history. Caitlin Clark’s 18 assists — she had one added to her total a day after the game — set a new program and Big Ten single-game record.
Two days later, Iowa coach Lisa Bluder was still raving about it.
“I love it,” Bluder said Thursday. “To me, that’s like one of the most enjoyable things, when you watch teams that pass the ball really well and distribute the ball. For one thing, I think it shows unselfish play.”
The Hawkeyes (13-4 overall, 7-1 Big Ten) have 139 assists on 210 field goals in their current streak. They lead the Big Ten in overall assists per game (20.12) and in conference games (22.13). They’re fourth nationally in assists per game, seventh in total assists, and eighth in assist-to-turnover ratio.
“It’s unselfish basketball,” Bluder said. “It’s also pretty basketball. I love pretty basketball and to me, passing the ball like that, with low turnovers is pretty basketball. And that’s what I enjoy.”
Clark called the Penn State game “fun.”
“It felt really good when we’re hitting shots like that, when we’re passing the ball, moving the ball like that,” Clark said. “That’s why we were able to pick apart their zone really well, because we moved the ball. We kind of reversed it and got it inside and got really good looks. And then I think our transition game got going there in the first half and the second half.
But you know, that’s fun. We take pride in assists. You know, we want to have as many as we can, I would have never guessed it was 37 assists on 43 made shots. But that’s pretty incredible.”
The Hawkeyes haven’t lost since a 77-69 defeat to Northwestern on January 6. They play the Wildcats (11-7, 3-4) on the road on Friday with a confidence they haven’t had since the beginning of the season, when they opened with a four-game winning streak before COVID-19 issues within the program forced the cancellation of three games and took away their offensive rhythm.
Those cancellations, plus the loss of two Big Ten games at the end of December and early January, didn’t help them get back on track.
Iowa had a 93-56 win over Evansville on January 2, a hastily-scheduled game in the wake of a postponement of a game against Illinois, before the loss to Northwestern. The Hawkeyes didn’t have center Monika Czinano and McKenna Warnock for that
“Obviously, when we played Northwestern last time, we had just played Evansville, we were without Monika and McKenna, so kind of a weird situation there,” Clark said. “But you know, I still thought that we should have beat them. We were the better team and I think we’ve only improved to where we are at this point, obviously kind of on a (winning) streak right now.”
“I think we feel good about ourselves right now,” Bluder said. “And I think confidence is such a big part of this game. It’s amazing what it’ll do for you. I think we’re being more aggressive than we were then. I think we’re just a lot more confident and aggressive than we were playing then.”
Friday’s game will be the third in a four-game, nine-day stretch for the Hawkeyes. They had a three-hour flight delay getting home from Penn State on Tuesday, then took Wednesday as a mandatory day off.
“That’s what concerns me more than anything,these one-day preps are really tough,” Bluder said. “It’s the mental part of, ‘OK, here’s another scout again.’ Now you got to know this personnel again. Now you prepare for Northwestern. At least Penn State was a zone team and Northwestern is a zone team. That sure helps.”
Photo: Iowa’s Caitlin Clark (right) and Addison O’Grady react after a play in a win over Purdue earlier this season. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)