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Sunday, May 28, 2023

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Iowa Hawkeyes have to play as a team in biggest game of their lives

The rise of Iowa women’s basketball has captured the hearts of the nation throughout this season. We were in awe of the way every step of the way as coach Lisa Bluder led a dynamic group of young women with distinctive personalities and a fast-paced style of play in Dallas to the program’s first Final Four appearance since 1993 .

Of course, we can’t talk about the Hawkeyes without mentioning the incomparable Caitlin Clarke. His play, leadership and humility make him one of a kind. She shows a passion for the game and for her team that basketball lovers not only admire but want to emulate. He is everything you could ask for in a team player and for this reason he was crowned the Naismith Player of the Year among others.

But she will be the first to say that she is not alone.

With Monica Zinano, Kate Martin, Gabby Marshall and McKenna Warnock and a vibrant bench helping to carry the load, the Hawkeyes have put Big Ten women’s basketball on the map and now they not only have their chance to make the biggest statement of the year Will happen. , but in the history of the program.

Their national semifinal opponent will be the defending national champion South Carolina Gamecocks, who have been ranked No. 1 all year and are undefeated. If they win it again, they will be the 10th unbeaten team in women’s sports history and the first since the 2015 and 2016 UConn Huskies to win back-to-back titles.

According to CBS Sports, the Gamecocks are 11.5-point favorites to win. They are also the best defensive team in the nation, whose physical play has been able to stifle opposing offenses. Fueled by that prowess, they obliterated their opponents by an average winning margin of 29.5 points.

Their starting five is loaded and they have the triple threat of Aliyah Boston, Brea Beal and Jiya Cook that will give the Hawkeyes a run for their money.

Boston was named the Defensive Player of the Year and has the ability to score inside, hit the glass (9.8 rebounds per game) and convert solidly at the free throw line (75.7 percent). She displays a consistency similar to that of Cizzinano. Beal is the Gamecocks’ playmaker and workhorse who can do a little bit of everything. She can score, pass and rebound when needed, just like Warnock and Martin. Cook is their leading scorer, averaging 15.1 points, and can shoot from long range, not with Clark’s frequency, but with regularity.

The Hawkeyes have arguably the most explosive offense in the country. They lead the nation in scoring with 87.5 points compared to the Gamecocks’ 80, but they will need to play against the best defense they’ve played all year if they want a chance.

A major theme of this will be to try to limit gamecocks on the offensive glass as much as possible. A large portion of South Carolina’s points come from second-chance buckets, as they average 16.8 offensive rebounds compared to the Hawkeyes’ 7.8.

If the Hawkeyes are able to let everyone crash the defense board, they can fall back to their transition offense where they can move the ball as well, create space inside or on the perimeter and score easily. which in turn, with the tires of the Gamecocks.

It will also be a battle of the benches. The Gamecocks lead the nation in bench points at 36 per game and have great depth. But the Hawkeyes are far behind as Hannah Stuelke, Molly Davis and Sid Afholter average a combined 38.1 minutes per game and have stepped up to fill the void for starters at key moments. Stuelke is known for his strong rebounding, quickness to run on the floor, and ability to fight his way through the paint to score inside. Davis is good at handling the ball, creating space and scoring from and within the 3-point line. The afloat can also muscle his way inside, draw fouls and be reliable, shooting 86 percent from the free throw line.

These three steps up would be huge for the Hawkeyes.

Overall, defense, rebounding and a smooth transition offense will be key for the Hawkeyes, who will be a huge upset despite being the No. 2 seed.

If ever there was a historical comparison to the hype surrounding this game, it would be the 1991 NCAA men’s semifinal between the then-undefeated and defending champion UNLV Runnin’ Rebels and the upstart Duke Blue Devils. It was a clash of differing styles of play and a collection of star talent, and a duel between two of the best coaches, that made it an instant classic with Duke upsetting UNLV before winning the title.

The only difference is that they met UNLV in the national title game for the first time with a win by more than 30 points.

This would be the first time Iowa would play against South Carolina. This is what everyone was waiting for and the Hawkeyes had a chance to continue their magical run and capture their first national title. To do so on one of the biggest nights in sports history would be nothing short of incredible.

Iowa City waits on pins and needles.

No. 2 seed Iowa (30-6) plays No. 1 seed South Carolina (36-0) at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.

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