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Mar 25, 2024 12:52 am

Iowa has sights set on Sweet 16, has to get through West Virginia first

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Caitlin Clark and No. 1 seed Iowa will try to advance to the Sweet 16 of the Women’s NCAA Tournament when they go up against No. 8 seed West Virginia on Monday night in Iowa City, Iowa.

Iowa (30-4) is coming off a 91-65 win over No. 16 seed Holy Cross in the opening round of the tourney. The Hawkeyes led by only two points after the first quarter, but they overcame a slow start by outscoring the Crusaders 68-44 the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, West Virginia (25-7) enters the game as a rare underdog after an impressive season in the Big 12 Conference. The Mountaineers are coming off a 63-53 win over No. 9 seed Princeton in the opening round.

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said she felt good about her players heading into Monday’s game.

“You know, I’m happy with it,” Bluder said. “I’m not going to ever complain about a 26-point victory. Of course, the first quarter I thought we were a little bit rusty … but I thought we got it going after that.

“Three-point defense was really good, and that was a key for us. … I thought we did a really good job with that. I thought we did a great job with that. I thought we did a really good job on the boards. We got great paint points, took advantage of some things, so, yeah, I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Like her teammates, Clark was frustrated by the slow start. But she finished the game with 27 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds in front of a raucous home crowd.

Now comes the final home game of the season for Clark and her teammates. Regardless of Monday’s outcome, the winner will move on to Albany, N.Y., for the rest of regional action until the Final Four.

Clark said it has been easy to feel the crowd’s passion whenever Iowa takes the court.

“I feel like this city has really embraced our team more than anybody,” Clark said. “This state has really embraced our team and they love our team to death, and that’s what’s made it so fun.

“That’s what this journey has really been all about, is people rallying around us and sharing in these moments and this joy with us.”

West Virginia will look toward its defense to try and slow down Iowa’s potent offensive attack. The Mountaineers take pride in forcing turnovers and converting them into points on the other end.

“Honestly, (it’s) like we’ve been doing all year,” West Virginia guard Jordan Harrison said. “We feed off transition buckets, steals, deflections. So we are not going to change nothing. We are going to do what West Virginia does and that’s get turnovers regardless of who the team is.”

Likewise, Iowa sees its defense as the key to unlocking its offense against West Virginia.

“It really honestly for us starts on defense,” Clark said. “And I think when we’re able to string stops together, that’s when we’re really able to execute. … When we get stops, that leads to our best offense, which is transition offense, and that’s what we want to get to.”

–Field Level Media

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