By John Bohnenkamp
IOWA CITY — Jim Flanery remembered walking into Creighton’s practice facility at 6:15 a.m. during the fall for some pickup basketball.
Lauren Jensen, who had transferred from Iowa last spring, was always there getting in some shooting practice.
“The number of times that Lauren was in there was impressive to me,” Flanery said. “So as a coach, when you have somebody who comes into your program and you’re trying to get to know them and you see them when you walk in the gym at 6 a.m. and you see somebody who’s got the shooting gun set up and putting up jumpers, that resonates, OK? And that’s been in my head a lot this year.”
There is that awkward fitting-in period when a player transfers into a new program, and Flanery sensed that.
So, when Jensen took only three shots in 24 minutes in a loss to Nebraska early in the season, Flanery had to remind her that it was OK to be part of the team.
“I told her, in front of the team, ‘Lauren, you have to shoot more,’ because I know the work that she’s put in,” Flanery said.
There is no need to worry now. Jensen is at home with the Bluejays.
And on Sunday, she came back to Carver-Hawkeye Arena and with one big shot knocked her former teammates out of the NCAA tournament.
Jensen’s 3-pointer with 12 seconds left gave Creighton the lead for the last time in the 64-62 over Iowa in the Greensboro Region second round, sending the 10th-seeded Bluejays into the second weekend of the tournament for the first time in program history, and crushing the Hawkeyes’ hopes in front of a sellout crowd of more than 14,000.
“Yeah, it means a lot,” said Jensen, a sophomore from Lakeville, Minn. “Right away from summer workouts, this team welcomed me with open arms and made me feel at home and a part of the team, and I’m just so grateful for that. To be able to do that with them here today is just so great.”
Jensen played in 17 games with the Hawkeyes last season, scoring just 23. She would nearly equal that on this day, scoring a team-high 19, including nine of the Bluejays’ last 10 points.
Jensen faced the questions all weekend on what it was like to come back to the arena where her career started, to face players she was teammates with a year earlier.
Flanery got the same questions.
“‘How is Lauren going to feel today, what’s Lauren going to play like, da da da da?’” Flanery said. “Those last few minutes had to be magical and special, and we’re super proud of her and we’re super proud that she’s part of our program.”
Everyone insisted, Jensen and the Hawkeyes, that there were no hard feelings about the move last season. Jensen saw the numbers game — everyone was coming back from a team that reached the regional semifinals last season, and playing time was probably again going to be limited.
So, she looked elsewhere, and found Creighton.
“Obviously that’s an incredible storyline,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “She goes over there and she comes back and beats us on our home court, and I want to congratulate her because she’s a great kid. She is a really, really good kid. I’m happy for her. I wish it wasn’t in this situation, but I am happy for her that she’s found a really good home and is really having a lot of success.”
Jensen averaged 12.4 points this season, leading the Bluejays with 76 3-pointers.
She was at her best when Creighton needed her.
The Bluejays had led almost the entire game when Iowa, the No. 2 seed in the region and the No. 8 team in the nation, started to rally. Creighton, which missed six of its seven shots to open the fourth quarter, staggered when Gabbie Marshall hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Monika Czinano scored inside. Eight points in 143 seconds gave the Hawkeyes a 58-54 lead and brought Carver-Hawkeye to its loudest.
Yet the noise that rocked the arena never seemed to bother the Bluejays, and Flanery attributed that to them being a part of it during Friday’s sold-out first-round session.
“I know as a coach, to hear how loud it got during the Illinois State game (a 98-58 Iowa win), and for our players to be in the building gave them a sense,” Flanery said. “I felt like if we hadn’t been, maybe it’s a little different. Just watching the way Illinois State — I in particular was watching the Illinois State staff to see how they communicated in-game to their team and back. And we talked about that before the game last night a little, but also this morning, about just the need for more eyes to be to the bench, which is part of what you’re asking.
“But also I think the expectation was that it was going to get loud.
It never bothered Jensen, who had been in the building so many times before. Her layups and a jumper were answers to Iowa scores on the other end, and the Bluejays were only down 62-60 with 1:25 to go.
The Hawkeyes then started missing shots. Czinano missed a layup, and Kate Martin missed a 3-pointer. Jensen rebounded the Martin miss, and then 12 seconds later popped open at the top of the key, hitting a 3-pointer that inhaled all of the noise that was swirling.
“I honestly didn’t know if it was going to go in,” Jensen said. “It kind of rattled off the back rim there. It wasn’t super clean, but I’m just glad it fell.”
The Hawkeyes still had a chance to win, and they got the ball into the hands of Caitlin Clark, the nation’s leading scorer who was having a bad shooting day.
Clark had missed 14 of her 18 shots when she drove to the basket, hoping for a layup or a foul. She missed the layup, and as she sprawled on the floor she threw her arms in the air to dispute the lack of a foul call.
It had been that way all day, something that Flanery acknowledged and something that bothered Bluder.
“I thought they let us play at both ends,” Flanery said. “For sure they let us play. I thought both games this weekend, the officiating was consistent in terms of I thought they called verticality pretty well in both games.”
“There just wasn’t many whistles,” Bluder said. “When you’re used to having fouls called 34 times a game and it’s 22 this time … again, I don’t mind if it’s called … but call it that way in November, call it that way in December, January, February. Don’t come in March and change our style of officiating. That’s what frustrates me.”
Clark, who finished with just 15 points, was especially frustrated.
“But I think at the same time, I missed some bunnies that I usually make and sometimes that’s how basketball goes,” she said. “Yeah, it’s disappointing, it stinks. Yeah, I would have liked to get more calls. I could say that every single game, Coach Bluder could say that every single game, our opponent could say that every single game. And I’m not going to sit here and make excuses for how I played.”
Creighton’s Emma Ronsiek was fouled on the inbounds play. She missed her first free throw, made the second, and an Iowa timeout gave the Hawkeyes the ball at midcourt.
The ball was going to Czinano or Clark, Bluder said, but Czinano was the choice. She was 12-of-19 shooting — she leads the nation in field-goal percentage — and she got the ball just where she wanted.
Except her hook shot missed.
“I’ve shot a million hook shots in my life and that one happened to not go in,” said Czinano, who led the Hawkeyes with 27 points. “I think we’ve run that play a lot. We needed to run that play, and it was just unfortunate that it didn’t go in.”
McKenna Warnock got the offensive rebound and went up for the putback. It missed. Martin got the rebound, but couldn’t get her shot off in time.
The only noise came from the Creighton section of the arena.
“Honestly I knew we would stay together,” Jensen said. “We’ve been in those situations before in close games and we’ve been able to overcome it. Obviously it was a little bit different environment playing in front of 15,000, but I’m super proud of us for staying together and getting our offense going again.”
Jensen’s smile cut through her daze at what at happened.
“Yeah, it’s crazy,” she said. “It’s honestly so surreal. I feel like it hasn’t really set in yet that we’re going to the Sweet 16 and just the fact that it was here … still kind of processing that one a little bit.”
She knew she would have time to process it all on a 250-mile bus ride that was ahead.
She was going home.
Photo: Iowa’s Caitlin Clark drives to the basket in the second half of Sunday’s NCAA Tournament second-round game against Creighton. (Rob Howe/HawkeyeNation.com)