Indiana women’s basketball was defeated 74-67 by Iowa in Sunday’s Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis. The game was close until the final minutes, but by the time the buzzer sounded and the confetti fell from the Gainbridge Fieldhouse rafters, Iowa had pulled away to secure the conference championship.
The game was incredibly close throughout, with neither team ever leading by more than 7 points. Iowa entered the fourth quarter ahead by just 4 points, but both times Indiana cut Iowa’s lead within a single possession, Iowa quickly answered before Indiana could tie or retake the lead.
Senior center Monika Czinano took over for the Hawkeyes in the fourth quarter. She scored 10 of her 30 total points in the final frame to help her team close out the game. Czinano finished with a double-double after pulling down 10 rebounds in the game.
“As far as Czinano goes, she’s one of the best post players in the country for a reason and she’s surrounded by really good players,” senior guard Grace Berger said. “She’s just so good at getting positioning and easy shots that she’s hard to stop.”
Czinano’s play in both the championship game and throughout the weekend earned her a spot on the Big Ten All-Tournament Team. She was joined by teammate sophomore guard Caitlin Clark, who scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the Hawkeyes’ win. Clark was also named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament by the media.
Despite not being the team’s leading scorer, Clark made her presence known by collapsing Indiana’s defense with drives to the hoop and drawing fouls to put Hoosier players in foul trouble.
That foul trouble plagued Indiana as the game came down to its closing stages. Berger picked up her fourth foul early in the fourth quarter, but did not immediately exit the game because she led Indiana in scoring and kept her team in the game offensively. When she fouled out in the final minute, she had a team-high 20 points.
Junior forward Mackenzie Holmes also struggled with foul trouble on Sunday. She never fouled out, but picked up her fourth foul in the third quarter and had to adjust her defensive intensity for the rest of the game. Because Holmes had the responsibility of guarding Czinano most of the time, Czinano took advantage of her Indiana counterpart’s cautious defending late.
In addition to its foul trouble, Indiana struggled shooting the ball at every level. The Hoosiers shot only 38% from the floor compared to Iowa’s 50% mark, and only 21% from 3-point range. As a result, Indiana finished with 11 more shot attempts than Iowa but made three less.
“(We) didn’t shoot the ball particularly well today,” head coach Teri Moren said. “Whether it was a little bit of fatigue and tired legs, I’m not sure. We got some really good looks that didn’t go down for us. and sometimes that just happens in a game.”
Berger and graduate student guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary joined Czinano and Clark on the All-Tournament team. The play of both players helped lead the Hoosiers throughout the weekend with consistent scoring and strong defense.
In Sunday’s championship game, Cardaño-Hillary filled up the stat sheet. She scored 19 points, grabbed seven rebounds, dished out three assists, snatched four steals and recorded two blocks, all while guarding the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Clark.
“(Cardaño-Hillary) did a tremendous job on Clark today, she held her at bay,” Moren said. “I think she made her uncomfortable for most of the 40 minutes. But we had no answer for Czinano.”
Sunday’s matchup marked Indiana’s second-ever appearance in the conference title game after having won the tournament in 2002. With the loss, Indiana enters the NCAA Tournament with a 22-8 record.
Despite the loss, Indiana has put itself in a position to have Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall serve as a likely host site in the first two rounds of the tournament, a goal Moren has talked about achieving throughout the season.
Indiana will wait until next Sunday to see what seed it gets in the tournament. The selection show will take place at 8 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN.