By JOHN BOHNENKAMP
IOWA CITY — Katie Abrahamson-Henderson has had only a day to prepare for Iowa for Sunday’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament second-round game, so she can be forgiven for not knowing all of the Hawkeyes by name.
She does, at least, know what they look like.
The Georgia coach was trying to describe how to defend the Hawkeyes during Saturday’s press conference when she realized she needed a roster. There wasn’t one close at hand, so she just started riffing.
“Obviously the cute little one with the eyes, who is that?” Abrahamson-Henderson said.
She looked out into the media crowd for help.
“Cute eyes, pretty eyes,” Abrahamson-Henderson offered.
A woman’s voice from the back answered, “Gabbie Marshall?”
“See, women know that,” Abrahamson-Henderson replied.
Abrahamson-Henderson does, at least, know about Marshall’s capabilities.
“She’s a really good defender and just … I would consider her besides Caitlin (Clark) a sniper,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “She can knock down shots.”
The Bulldogs are about to find out a lot about the Hawkeyes in the 2 p.m. game at a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Let’s face it, we’re all about to find out a lot about the Hawkeyes, who have Final Four dreams yet still remember last season, when their journey got derailed in almost the same setting.
Creighton was a 10 seed with a physical defense that set a tone for the upset of the No. 2 seed Hawkeyes in a Sunday afternoon game at a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
And here we are again. Iowa is a 2 seed, and Georgia is a 10 seed with a physical zone defense that set a tone in Friday’s win over Florida State.
The Hawkeyes, though, are a little more educated now in the perils of March. This season has been about getting stronger, dealing the pushes and the shoves that come and the swallowed whistles of officials that often accompany them,
Iowa is 27-6 heading into the game, and those six defeats had their own lessons, usually how teams defended the Hawkeyes.
So, whatever Georgia wants to do to the Hawkeyes — besides the zone, Abrahamson-Henderson hinted there will be some full-court pressure as well — it’s nothing new.
“If some team throws something at us during a game, odds are we’ve seen it, and we have sets in to kind of combat that,” center Monika Czinano said. “A lot of losses, yeah, they sucked. It sucks to lose. But we learned a lot of great lessons from them. They teach us really great lessons for these moments.”
The Hawkeyes have Czinano on the inside, and Clark, Marshall, McKenna Warnock and Kate Martin knocking down 3-pointers on the outside. Georgia’s zone is physical and has length, which makes it unusual, but Clark said Iowa has plenty of counter measures.
“I’m not sure they’ve seen a team that has as many shooters as we do on the perimeter,” Clark said. “So being able to use that to the best of our ability, it’s hard to play zone when you have four people on the perimeter that can really spread the floor out and shoot it like we do. So we need to be able to do that, but at the same time, when we have people making shots on the perimeter, it’s pretty easy to get the ball inside to Monika, or if Monika is scoring on the block pretty easily, it’s going to open things up. So it’s hard to pick your poison with this team.”
The Hawkeyes got knocked around by Creighton last season, and the offseason was about getting stronger. Clark, Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said, added eight pounds of muscle.
“I think we worked really hard in the weight room in the offseason, in the summer and the fall,” Martin said. “I wouldn’t say we’re the most physical team in the country, we’re definitely not. But I’d say we’re prepared for that.”
Martin has done her own scouting of the Georgia zone.
“It’s really a matchup zone, kind of chaotic,” Martin said. “There’s really no rhyme or reason to a lot of it, honestly. It kind of reminds me of the ‘Blizzard’ defense of Northwestern. The middle’s open, they’ll deny you on the wings and make your life miserable. But if you catch it in the middle, they’re going to be physical, they’re going to be knocking you, they’re going to be pushing you around a little bit.
“I think that’s what’s best about their zone, it’s how physical they are. And they’re going to be scrambling a lot.”
Abrahamson-Henderson talked about what the Bulldogs want to do, but said, “Clearly, I’m not giving you all my secrets, people.”
Bluder talked about the Bulldogs’ double-post offense, and the problems that Iowa’s usual four-guard look could face. The counter moves are there, but Bluder, also, wasn’t about to give out any secrets.
Abrahamson-Henderson had some guesses.
“Well, I think defensively she’s going to mix it up,” Abrahamson-Henderson said. “She’s going to play junk. She’s going to play triangle and two; box in one, she’s going to do a 2-3. She’s going to play man. She’s going to do all that. It’s just going to depend on who we have in. It’s going to be a chess match, I think, the whole game, and I think she’s really good at that.”
Marshall, it seemed, had 20-20 vision on how this game is going to go.
“We’ve faced teams that are physical and tough, and I think just going in with that mindset that we won’t probably get many calls, we’re just going to have to play through it and play through the toughness and be gritty on defense,” she said. “I mean, that’s really the mindset you have to go into that game, and any game in the tournament, really.”
Photo: Iowa guard Gabbie Marshall defends during Friday’s NCAA Tournament game against Southeastern Louisiana. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)