IOWA CITY — Size and strength stands between third-ranked Iowa and a spot in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
The Hawkeyes will be dealing with the size and physicality presented by Georgia and its double post offensive structure in Sunday’s 2 p.m. second-round game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“It’s a different look, something we don’t see a lot of in the Big Ten," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said.
The Hawkeyes do have a hint of what they’re getting themselves into with the Bulldogs’ physical style of play and reliance on an effective zone defense.
First-year Georgia coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson, a Cedar Rapids native, coached the Central Florida team Iowa hosted a year ago and three players from that team are among 10 players from the transfer portal now playing for the Bulldogs.
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“They do a lot of things we saw UCF do in the way they defend, the strength and physical style that they like to play," Iowa center Monika Czinano said. “We’ve seen a few clips from that game and can see how they approached things against us."
Bluder said that particularly with a one-day preparation, the experience Iowa gained from facing Central Florida a year ago is helpful.
“It was really a blessing to be able to see them last year because you don’t have much time to prepare for an opponent as you usually would during the season," Bluder said. “… I do think they’re a little bit different to prepare for because of their zone defense, so I’m glad we had that, very similar to last year."
Iowa won that game 69-61 and two Bulldogs, starting guard Diamond Battles and reserve Alisha Lewis, combined for 22 points in that game. A second Georgia starter, 6-foot-3 forward Brittney Smith, played for the UCF team that finished 26-4 a year ago and reached the second round of NCAA play.
Smith, whose average of 11.5 points per game is second on the team to Battles’ 14.5 points per game, joins 6-0 Jordan Isaacs and 6-2 Javyn Nicholson as part of a deep double-post option the Bulldogs have ridden to a 22-11 record.
“We’ve seen a lot more four-out, one-in type teams throughout the year," Bluder said. “Having the depth at the post position and having two really strong, big posts in there at the same time, it’s a test."
Iowa forward McKenna Warnock believes the Hawkeyes are better equipped to deal with now than they were a year ago.
“We all put in a lot of time in the weight room over the summer to get stronger and I think that has made a difference this season," Warnock said. “This will be a good test of that."
Georgia does not lean heavily on the three-point shot, but Battles said the Bulldogs’ bigs typically get enough attention to create some opportunities.
“They do a good job of finding us when we are open," Battles said.
Georgia seldom strays from zone looks on defense and that is something Iowa is preparing for as well.
“I think getting the ball inside and valuing the ball, using shot fakes and just being strong with the ball in general will really help us," Hawkeye guard Gabbie Marshall said.
Iowa guard Caitlin Clark agrees with Marshall’s assessment, but believes the Hawkeyes have their own advantages as they work to add to a 27-6 record and reach the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years.
“I’m not sure they’ve seen a team that has as many shooters as we do on the perimeter, so being able to use that to the best of our ability will be big," Clark said. “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."
That can also open things up for Czinano inside.
“It’s hard to pick your poison with this team," Clark said.
That’s what concerns Abrahamson-Henderson.
She used “amazing" to describe Clark, called Czinano “a stud" and suggested that Marshall is a “sniper" with her recent shooting success from 3-point range.
“And the rest of them, they play their roles really, really well," Abrahamson-Henderson said.
She expects the match-up to be a chess match of sorts as each team looks to find match-ups that might provide an edge.
“I think it’s going to be a chess match the whole game and I think (Bluder) is really good at that," Abrahamson-Henderson said. “Depending who goes in the game, you may see her pull out a different defense."