NCAAW Final Four: Iowa survives UConn 71-69

In an exhilarating Final Four matchup between the Iowa Hawkeyes and UConn Huskies, Iowa will play South Carolina in the NCAA Championship game on Sunday.

(Photo by Shawn McLurkin/Ballislife)

The Iowa Hawkeyes are headed to their second straight NCAA Women's Final.

Friday evening was an unforgettable matchup between the no. 1 Iowa Hawkeyes and no. 3 UConn Huskies. While headlines swirled around stars Caitlin Clark and Paige Bueckers, it was the supporting casts that made the matchup so impressive. A blood bath until the end, Iowa defeated UConn 71-69 to advance to the NCAA Championship game vs. South Carolina.

Unfortunately, the matchup didn't come without controversy. Down by one point with less than 10 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, UConn center Aliyah Edwards was nabbed for the offensive screen against Gabbie Marshall. Foul or not, Marshall has excelled in drawing charges her entire career.

While it's generated buzz around social media, it was a call that secured the victory for Iowa. While Bueckers downplayed the call, the Huskies were cut short of a potential game tying bucket to win the game. No matter if the call was right or not, it was heart breaking for the Huskies.

Visibly upset in the post-game conference, Geno Auriemma gave his thoughts on that final possession call.

There’s probably an illegal screen call that you could make on every single possession,” said Auriemma. “I just know there were three or four of them called on us. And I don’t think there were any called on them. So, I guess we just gotta get better at not setting illegal screens." (CBS Sports).

While there was scrutiny towards the referees for the end of gameplay, we can't let that take away from the brilliance between these two teams. A revenge game for Iowa, they were previously bumped from the Sweet 16 during Clark's freshman season by UConn. This time, Iowa coach Lisa Bluder and the Hawkeyes simply had too much chemistry and depth to slide by the Huskies.

UConn vs. Iowa made history

(Photo by Shawn McLurkin/Ballislife)

One for the history books, the highly anticipated Final Four matchup generated 14.2 million viewers on ESPN. According to the network, the viewership peaked at 17 million spectators, making it the most-watched Women's college basketball game in history. Per ESPN, it was the most-viewed college event to air on ESPN+, and ESPN's second-best non-football telecast ever.

Those incredible stats not only emphasize the importance of this match-up but also the growth and evolution of women's basketball. No matter what the outcome, this will go down as one of the most impactful matchups the game has ever seen.

All eyes have surrounded Caitlin Clark and her quest to pass Pete Maravich for the all-time NCAA scoring record. The nation-leading scorer passed Maravich for the record with 49 points against Michigan, making her the most prolific scorer of all time. Notorious for her lengthy three-point attempts, she struggled against the Huskies early on.

UConn entered the matchup as three-point underdogs, in large part due to injuries. With a six-player rotation, head coach Geno Auriemma knew the high possibility of foul troubles.

UConn put the clamps on Clark, yet her team shined

Up by a game-high 12 points, the Huskies defense was stifling. Forcing the Hawkeyes to turn the ball over 14 times, it was their defensive poise that kept the score close for most of the game. Clark was smothered by UConn guard Nika Muhl, limited to six points and zero three-pointers in the first half. Quick on their feet, Auriemma's defensive scheme was nothing short of incredible while guarding Clark. Heavily utilizing their double-team system, Clark was forced to pass up the ball on several occasions.

After the game, Clark commented on UConn's defense, especially Nika Muhl, who held the Hawkeyes to 8-25 three-point shooting.

"UConn is a really good defensive team, one of the best defensive teams we’ve seen all year, said Clark. I think Nika did a tremendous job guarding me." (March Madness PR)

For the Huskies, freshman guard KK Arnold was largely responsible for their lead, as she finished with 14 points, on 6-10 field goal shooting. While Arnold compiled 5 steals, she entered foul trouble early on. Although the Wisconsin native never fouled out, her time off the court deeply impacted the Huskies.

UConn had limited depth and fell into foul trouble

(Photo by Shawn McLurkin/Ballislife)

Center Aliyah Edwards had no choice but to let some Iowa buckets slide due to foul trouble. However, she was a force for the Huskies on the defensive end, adding five steals and one block. Able to take advantage of the mismatches below, she finished with 17 points, and eight rebounds, on 8-15 shooting.

As for UConn star Paige Bueckers, she was bottled up by Iowa's box-and-1 defense, who has been in play all season. Over the matchup, Bueckers finished with just 17 points, on 7-17 field goal shooting. Just 3-8 from three-point range, the guard had trouble finding her rhythm on the offensive end. While it wasn't her best performance, the Hawkeyes forced Bueckers to pass up the rock. In this case, we saw UConn's impact of injuries and lack of experience come back to haunt them.

Ashlynn Shade, Ice Brady, and KK Arnold have been extremely influential as freshmen on this Huskies team. While Brady banked two massive shots towards the end of the game, Shade struggled from the three, hitting just 1-5 from deep. UConn was never supposed to be in this position, and having such success put enormous pressure on the freshman.

Although the Huskies were ultimately defeated, the future is very bright for these young players. How many coaches can say they led their team to the final four with three of their six players listed as freshman?

Iowa is headed to the NCAA Women's Final Championship for the second straight year

For Clark, she found herself and Iowa down by 32-26 at the half. And in true Caitlin Clark fashion, she stepped up when it mattered most. While the overall performance was uncharacteristic of her overall play, Clark finished with 21 points on 7-18 shooting. Adding in nine rebounds and seven assists, Clark was just 3-11 from deep.

The momentum began to shift with 3:49 remaining in the third quarter for Iowa. Down 44-42, Clark completed a four-point play after fouled at the three-point line by Shade. Tied 51-51, Clark sunk seven of her 21 points in the final quarter.

A close game until the final seconds, it was Nika Muhl who put up a bucket after compiling her third steal of that game. While the Huskies closed the gap to just one point, it was Sydney Affolter who came up with the colossal offensive board after a Clark miss at the charity stripe.

Iowa's Hannah Stuelke was the real mvp

(Photo by Shawn McLurkin/Ballislife)

Sure, Clark and Bueckers had significant effects on the game. However, for Iowa, it was the story of sophomore center Hannah Stuelke. Able to dominate in the paint, she finished with a team-high 23 points on 9-12 shooting. Arguably the best player on the court, her 11 third-quarter points brought the Hawkeyes back to life. Similar to a quarterback and their tight end, Clark and Stuelke have undeniable chemistry.

For Stuelke, it was all about aggressiveness and confidence. While she finished with one of the prime games of her career, it's the entire team that showed out.

"I think the confidence is everything," said Stuelke. "Especially hearing Caitlin Clark talk about me like that, it gives me a confidence boost. I think anyone would say that. But they just fed me the ball very well. The ball was going in for me tonight." (March Madness PR)

Overall, it was an impressive showing for two teams who had dreams of making the final stage. An overall effort by every single player on Iowa's roster, they will face South Carolina in the NCAA Women's National Championship game. While the Gamecocks remain undefeated, it was Clark and the Hawkeyes that ended their perfect run last season in the 2023 Final Four.

With tip-off slated for 3:00 p.m. ET Sunday, it will be a dogfight between South Carolina and Iowa for the National Championship. For Caitlin Clark and Kamilla Cardoso, they will see one more game in their collegiate uniforms.

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Sara Jane Gamelli is a full-time Sportswriter, Content Creator and Social Media Manager for Ballislife Bets. She has a focus on the NBA, WNBA, NCAA Basketball, and the NFL. Sara Jane currently resides in Connecticut/NYC area with her Cat and Dog. SJ has her undergraduate degree from the University of Connecticut in Economics, with a minor in business administration


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