By Joe Tykane
Sports Capital Journalism Program
INDIANAPOLIS — The Iowa Hawkeyes made history Sunday evening, beating the Indiana Hoosiers, 74-67, to win their fourth Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament championship and the second in four seasons.
The victory comes on the heels of a regular season in which Iowa finished tied for the best record in the conference, marking the first time in program history that the Hawkeyes have won both Big Ten regular season and tournament titles. Iowa (23-7) was led by senior center Monika Czinano, who dominated the Hoosiers by scoring 30 points on 13-of-18 shooting and grabbing 10 rebounds.
The crowd of 8,709 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse was the largest for a Big Ten championship game since the record crowd of 9,417 watched Purdue beat Penn State in 2004.
Iowa sophomore Caitlin Clark, the Big Ten Player of the Year, was voted the Jim and Kitty Delany Most Outstanding Player after she averaged 26.0 points and 9.3 rebounds in three games. Clark was held to 18 points on 6-of-17 shooting, including 1-for-7 shooting from 3-point range.
The conference tournament game victory was the 26th for Iowa coach Lisa Bluder, surpassing the record held by former Indiana and Purdue coach Sharon Versyp.
Indiana (22-8) was led by senior guard Grace Berger, who scored 20 points, making 10 of 21 shots, and added seven rebounds and four assists.
Fifth-seeded Indiana, which reached the championship game for the first time since winning the title 20 years ago, was playing for a fourth consecutive day. Junior forward Mackenzie Holmes, the player tasked with guarding Czinano, had missed eight games with a knee injury from January 13 to February 14.
Those factors only exacerbated the challenge that Czinano’s skill and physicality presented. Indiana coach Teri Moren described the factors that made Czinano such a tough cover.
“The thing is she puts so much pressure on you because she uses — half the time she doesn’t even dribble,” Moren said. “.She can catch it and she shoots it so fast. So blitzing, doubling, we’ve considered, we tried at times but she shoots the ball so fast. If you’re late to your double, she’s going to make you pay.
“And then, full fronting, we’ve looked at that,” Moren went on. “But then I think they’re well-versed in being able to skip the ball and screen you in. And they got us on that in the first half, and knocked down the 3…She has great footwork. She gets you deep. She blows you up in terms of just trying to get a deep seal and trying to — just her physicality. She’s really improved and she’s a load on the inside.”
Although Clark finished with a team high plus 12, she did not take over the game the same way fans are used to seeing. Clark struggled to find ways to score, making just one of seven 3-point attempts, missing shots that she typically knocks down. Clark was able to penetrate and get to the rim but did not receive as generous of a whistle as she had in previous games, only getting to the line five times.
The Hoosiers were very physical containing her drives and Clark was visibly upset for much of the game. Guards Nicole Cardaño-Hillary and Ali Patberg were both tasked with guarding Clark for large stretches of the game, and both did well to limit her comfort and pester her on and off the ball. Cardaño-Hillary finished the game with two blocks and four steals, one of them coming in the last two minutes of the game when she ripped the ball directly from Clark on a drive.
Clark praised Cardano-Hillary after the game, calling her a great defender. “I didn’t bring the ball up much because she picks up basically the whole length of the court,” Clark said. “.We don’t really need me to bring the ball up, but she can guard you the entire game just like that. I don’t think she ever gets tired.”
Berger, a first-team All-Big Ten forward, shot the ball well for the Indiana, putting on a midrange clinic, but struggled to get easy looks at the rim. She played the majority of the fourth quarter in foul trouble as well, picking up her fourth foul with 9:17 to play. Berger fouled out with 50 seconds to go.
Berger and Cardaño-Hillary carried the bulk of the offense tonight for the Hoosiers, responsible for 39 of the team’s 67 points and 7 of their 14 assists. Graduate student Ali Patberg, a 5-11 guard, was limited to 3-for-12 shooting and was unable to connect on any of her five shots from downtown.
Indiana’s memorable week, including the emotional elimination of Maryland in a quarterfinal, could mean that the Hoosiers host first and second-round games in the NCAA tournament. “It was a great four days for us,” Moren said. “We reminded them of that. And then the biggest thing is we have more basketball….It’s not the end for us. So those are the things you just remind them; that we’re going to shut this door and we’re going to move on to the NCAA Tournament and look forward to hosting in Bloomington.”
Clark made it clear that while the team is excited for today’s victory, the Hawkeyes still have their eyes set on the bigger prize. “I know Coach Bluder said on the podium we want to cut down more nets. It’s as simple as that… We’re always hungry for more and those have been our goals since the season started. We’ll enjoy this for now and then we’ll look forward to selection Sunday and enjoy that as well.”