Iowa update: The Hawkeyes move on to the Sweet 16

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - Second Round - Iowa City
Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes celebrate advancing to the Sweet 16. | Photo by Rebecca Gratz/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Before the most raucous of Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowds, the Hawkeyes’ backs were up against the wall, but they persevered, advancing to the Sweet 16.

The No. 1-seed Iowa Hawkeyes encountered an unexpectedly formidable challenge in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against the No. 8-seed West Virginia Mountaineers. They were coming in off a dominating first-round victory over Holy Cross on Saturday, 91-54, and many were expecting an encore.

The game, which marked the final appearance of Caitlin Clark, Kate Martin, Gabbie Marshall, Sharon Goodman and Molly Davis at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, was a hard-fought battle, remaining entirely up for grabs until the final moments. The Hawkeyes, however, pulled it off over the Mountaineers with a 64-54 win to move on to the Sweet 16.

It was a game in which defense ruled the day, as both teams shot under 40 percent from the field and neither was able to control of the tempo for much of the night. West Virginia made it a priority to crowd the perimeter, particularly Clark; at times, she was stymied into a state of chaos with missed shots and turnovers. The Hawkeyes couldn’t go on a run for much of the first half, and were held to only six points in the second quarter.

In essence, they were playing into the Mountaineers hands early on, as JJ Quinerly, Kyah Watson, Jayla Hemingway and Tirzah Moore were able to make considerable inroads with solid shooting and defensive prowess. The latter of which never relented, increasing the anticipation for a potential upset.

But in the end it wasn’t to be. Although it came late, the Hawkeyes were able to overcome what was certainly their biggest challenge in recent memory and did so due to the following factors:

  • Iowa’s defense: The Hawkeyes had to rely on defense to keep them in contention and, essentially, to beat the Mountaineers at their own game. Hannah Stuelke, who led with four blocks, said that the defense deserves as much recognition as the offense. “I think a lot of people think we’re only an offensive team. And we do work on defense all the time. I’m glad we got to show that tonight. That’s what won this game. So I’m really proud of that,” she said.
  • West Virginia’s foul trouble: As the third quarter started to wind down, the Mountaineers found themselves with several of their core players were in foul trouble, putting Iowa in the bonus. This did wonders for the Hawkeyes, allowing them to get to the foul line for easy points. Iowa was 25-for-30 from the line, compared to 3-for-5 for West Virginia.
  • Caitlin Clark leading by example: Clark finished the game with 32 points, eight rebounds and three assists. She came through when it mattered most in the waning stages of the game when the Mountaineers were forced to foul. Clark put the game away by making four free throws. On the evening, she went 11-for-12 from the line, while also hitting five 3-pointers. She also broke the NCAA Division I single-season scoring record, surpassing the mark established by Kelsey Plum.
  • The tandem of Kate Martin and Hannah Stuelke: Both crashed the boards ferociously, combining for 21 total rebounds (11 for Stuelke, 10 for Martin). Stuelke also was dynamic in the paint and in transition, as she finished with 12 points. Martin added seven points and two assists, with the majority of her points coming in the second half.
  • Syd Affolter’s ubiquitousness: In the starting rotation to replace the injured Molly Davis, Affolter was as reliable as they come, succeeding in the areas of scoring and rebounding. She finished the game with 13 points and was a perfect 5-for-5 from the free throw line. She also made a big basket with around two minutes remaining, earning the and-1 on a driving layup. Head coach Lisa Bluder spoke about how vital Affolter’s presence has been:

Syd having to slip into a starting position at this time of the year is a really difficult thing to do. I mean, that could upset the tempo of a lot of teams. But I think our team has always respected Syd so much and what she brought to the table. I’m proud of the rest of the group for not hanging our heads that we don’t have Molly, but instead it’s, okay, now we get Syd in the starting lineup. It’s just mentally a positive way to think about it.

No. 1-seed Iowa takes on No. 5-seed Colorado in the Sweet 16 in Albany, NY on Saturday, Mar. 30 at 2 p.m. ET.

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