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Playing Nice: Iowa

Previewing the national championship with Black Heart Gold Pants

NCAA Womens Basketball: Final Four National Semifinals-Iowa vs South Carolina Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve never done this before outside of football season but I’d say playing for a national championship warrants a special bit of content, no?

If you haven’t heard already, LSU (33-2) looks to win its first ever national championship in program history. The problem? In their way is an equally motivated Iowa Hawkeye team (31-6) who did the unthinkable and knocked out the defending champion and previously undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks. Even more problematic is the Hawkeyes have maybe the baddest woman on the planet: Caitlin Clark, this year’s AP Player of the Year.

To get us ready for the national championship, welcome in our new friend Alec from Black Heart Gold Pants, our Iowa sister site.

1. On a scale of 1-10 how worried are you that the deal you made with the devil for the 2005 Capital One Bowl will come due Sunday?

Haha. Let me start by saying this, If Drew Tate and the Hawkeye fan base made a deal with the devil to win that game and it wasn’t repaid during last year’s abysmal football season, we’re all already living in hell. On top of that, I grew up in South Bend, Indiana four houses down from former LSU baseball Coach Paul Mainieri (who LSU abducted) so I’m feeling pretty confident that I personally am on the right side of karma going into this game.

2. How do you stop Caitlin Clark? I promise I won’t send this to Kim Mulkey or the other LSU coaches and players so feel free to be as detailed as possible.

You don’t. That’s not a bias answer either. Teams have thrown the kitchen sink at Clark this year and all to no avail. Throw a quicker guard on her, she’s going to shoot over the top. Throw a longer forward on her and she’s getting to the bucket. Try to hedge and she’s dishing it to Monica Czinano on a roll to the basket, and if you double in the lane she’s going to find either Gabbie Marshall, Mckenna Warnock, or Kate Martin for three. In Clark’s first two seasons at Iowa, teams could get under her skin and fluster her emotionally and that was a proven strategy. Over the offseason she’s done a remarkable job learning how to control the negative emotions while still wearing the good ones on her sleeve. I actually liked Dawn Staley’s plan of trying to take her legs out during the course of a game and see if she has enough left in the tank at the end to win it. Well, she proved that doesn’t work either. Tell Kim Mulkey that.

3. On a serious note: is there a fear that Iowa completely emptied the tank Friday night against South Carolina?

That’s a very fair question to ask and I believe that is always a concern. There are three factors in my mind making me think that it won’t be a factor for the Hawkeyes. First, this is for a championship. The adrenaline that both of these teams will have playing in each programs first Natty is going to be off the charts. Then factor in both team’s stars Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark are not only the best players on the team, but the emotional leaders as well. And neither shy away from showing that emotion and it juices up their respective teams as well as their opponents. Second, Lisa Bludder is one of the best coaches in the country. She and Assistant Coach of the year Jan Jensen and Co. drew up maybe one of the best game plans in the history of this tournament against South Carolina. This Hawkeye team knows that this staff is going to have a game plan that will be successful and that level of confidence and buy in is dangerous. Lastly, the support this team has from its community is outrageous. I fully expect Hawkeye fans to swarm into Dallas and create a pro Hawkeye crowd at the American Airlines Center. It was evident that the support Friday was pushing this team to keep fighting against a much more athletic and physically demanding opponent. Couple that support with other rallying factors such as coach Jan Jensen losing her father before the Elite Eight game against Louisville, to fighting for families in several towns throughout Iowa and close to Iowa City that were hit by terrible tornados on Friday evening and this team will manage to find energy for Sunday.

4. Iowa is 137th in bench points per game and LSU’s no better at 229, but these Tournament games have a funny way of an unusual suspect coming up clutch. We know Caitlin Clark is the baddest woman on the planet, but who’s the X-factor for Iowa Sunday?

Both of these teams are led by extremely talented starting 5’s featuring a star. Because of this, I think bench points alone are a little overrated for both teams. If I had to pick a player coming off the bench and having an impact in this game for Iowa, it’s undoubtedly freshman forward Hannah Stuelke. Another native Iowan, Stuelke is akin to a fire cracker for this Hawkeye team. Her time on the court isn’t all that long, but when she is in, she is going to pop. For a team that is not lauded for its physicality, Stuelke is eager to get her hands dirty while also not being useless on the offensive end, especially in transition where she constantly beats larger players down the court. So while her 6.6 points and 4.4 boards a game may not stand out on paper, her heart and effort were so influential that it helped her capture Big Ten Sixth Player of the year.

5. Iowa survived against South Carolina despite being nearly doubled up on the glass (49-25). Now they have to deal with Angel Reese and LSU who are just as dominant of a rebounding team as Carolina. How does Iowa survive that clear disadvantage for the second game in a row?

Angel Reese is a problem. Her length and athleticism will surely hurt the Hawkeyes down low in this game. I don’t expect this game to be like Friday night’s game however where South Carolina was literally able to just play volleyball against the Hawkeyes and tip it to one another. That team was the largest women’s team in both strength and height that there has possibly ever been… and the Hawks still got it done. What Iowa needs to improve on from Friday is giving up offensive boards and compounding the problem by giving up and 1’s. The biggest difference though between you guys and the Cocks however is that LSU possesses both size and skill. South Carolina outside of Zia Cooke really didn’t have a shooter that could stretch the Hawkeyes defense. Conversely, Reese, Ladzhia Williams, Alexis Morris, Kateri Poole and the rest of the Tigers will stretch the Hawks out to the arc and allow more 1v1 rebounding battles for Reese and Williams underneath. Advantage LSU. But again, it didn’t matter Friday.

6. Finish these sentences:

Iowa wins the national championship if...

Iowa wins the National Championship if Caitlin Clark is making shots.

Iowa loses the national championship if...

Iowa loses the National Championship if she is not. Yes, it’s that simple.