Final Four Bound: Hawkeyes knock off LSU to advance to Cleveland

On3 imageby:Kyle Huesmann04/02/24

HuesmannKyle

As the Hawkeyes wrapped up their pregame shootaround at MVP Arena, the team sat in a circle at center court as they do before every single game. Head Coach Lisa Bluder passed around a pair of scissors and told her team to visualize themselves cutting down the nets at the end of the night.

At the end of the night, visualization became a reality for the Hawkeyes, as they knocked off the three seed LSU Tigers, 94-87, to advance to the Final Four for the second straight. They are just the seventh team since to 2000 to go to back-to-back Final Four’s, including a national title game appearance.

“We’ve earned this. We deserve to be in these moments. We’re prepared for these moments,” said Caitlin Clark. “You enjoy this and then you get to Cleveland and you start prepping for your next game. We want to win two more, and I think we have the power to do that.”

The Hawkeyes got out to an early lead, but both teams scored at a feverish pace in the first seven minutes of the game. Four different Iowa players hit three-pointers in the first quarter, including a pair from Caitlin Clark. Kate Martin lined up a three to make it 15-6, but the Tigers went on a run late in the quarter to take the lead. Three straight baskets from Angel Reese gave LSU their first lead of the game, while a basket from Mikaylah Williams capped off a 10-0 run to end the first quarter with the Tigers ahead 31-26.

“LSU is a really good team. They’re hard to guard, they’re such good one-on-one players, they break you down, they make tough shots and they killed us on the glass,” said Clark. “We were just resilient. We never hung our head when things didn’t go our way, and that can get you a long way.”

Hailey Van Lith buried a three to open the second quarter, but Syd Affolter quickly answered with a three of her own to put an end to the 13-0 LSU run. That shot allowed the Hawkeyes to settle in to the game and the teams traded baskets for most of the second quarter.

A Caitlin Clark three-pointer put Iowa back in front 38-37 halfway through the quarter, but a driving layup from Flau’jae Johnson at the halftime buzzer sent the game into the break tied at 45.

“I thought we were going to go up two to go into the locker room, and I was thrilled with that. But then we ended up being tied, and we just went in there and said, hey, we’ve got 20 more minutes,” said Lisa Bluder. “They were very locked in at halftime. There was a lot of belief in that locker room. There really was.”

The Hawkeyes were able to take control of the game early in the second half and it came from the hot hand of Caitlin Clark. She hit three three-pointers in the first two and a half minutes of the third quarter to give Iowa a 58-49 lead. A couple of minutes later, she hit a stepback three and then hit Syd Affolter with a pass in transition for a layup. All of the sudden, Iowa was up 63-52.

“When we came out, the game is tied, we come out, Caitlin hits that deep three, and it gave us a lot of momentum. Then we get a stop and another score and all of a sudden they have to call time-out after two minutes again,” said Bluder. “We started the game and we started the third quarter with a punch, and that really helped us a lot, gave us a lot of confidence on the defensive end.”

A couple of second chance baskets, including a putback from Flau’jae Johnson capped a short 6-0 run to cut the Iowa lead to 65-58. LSU got a stop on defensive end, but a steal and long distance dime from Caitlin Clark to Addi O’Grady led to a transition basket to keep the Tigers at bay.

The game wasn’t over yet. Kim Mulkey’s squad had one more push in them and it came at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Mikaylah Williams hit a three-pointer 14 seconds into the quarter, which was followed by a basket from Aneesah Morrow to cut the deficit to 69-63.

Kate Martin answered with a pro-level drive and finish at the rim, while Caitlin Clark hit a three on the next possession to get the lead back to ten points. A couple of minutes later, Clark stepped up and hit her career-high tying ninth three-pointer to make it 80-69 Hawkeyes. She pounded her chest and yelled to the crowd as she went back down the floor.

“I just got hyped for a second. I was trying to be pretty calm and cool. When you’re playing a team like LSU, like they’re never out of the game. No matter what the time and score is,” said Clark. “That’s what I told our girls. We were up 11. I was like, Do not start celebrating. Do not start getting too emotional. This game is not over. They’re going to fight until the end.”

LSU never threatened over the final five minutes and the Hawkeyes finished off the win to punch their ticket to the Final Four in Cleveland. In the final minute, Caitlin Clark converted a pair at the free throw line to put her over 40 points on the night. It’s the third time she has scored 40 points in an NCAA Tournament game.

“I think her maturity, just her communication with her teammates was really good tonight. She was in the huddle really building others up, which I love when she does that because it means so much coming from her rather than me,” said Bluder. “Her distance shots were amazing tonight. Her logo threes were incredible. How do you defend that, right? It is nearly impossible.”

Clark finished with 41 points, seven rebounds and 12 assists, while Kate Martin put up 21 points and six rebounds. Syd Affolter added 16 points and five rebounds. With Hannah Stuelke in foul trouble, Addi O’Grady stepped up in her 15 minutes on the floor, finishing with five points and four rebounds.

“I’m just extremely grateful for this group of young women we have. They’re amazing,” said Bluder. “Everybody kept saying at the beginning of the year, Iowa lost so much, they lost all this offense and two starters and everybody kept focusing on that, and we kept focusing on what we had.”

Up Next, the Hawkeyes will head to Rocker Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland for the Final Four. They will face off against three seed Connecticut for a spot in the national championship game on Friday.

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