For the fourth time this season, a top-10 team is coming to Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall to try and knock off Indiana women’s basketball. The latest challenger is No. 5 Iowa and National Player of the Year candidate Caitlin Clark, who will face the No. 2-ranked Hoosiers at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in a battle for the top spot in the Big Ten standings.
Although it’s only the first meeting between these squads this year, Indiana and Iowa have plenty of familiarity with each other.
Last season, the teams played each other three times in a 15-day period — including in the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis — with the Hawkeyes winning all three. A year before that, Indiana swept the season series 2-0 and in 2019-2020, Iowa won a double-overtime thriller in the teams’ lone head-to-head of the season.
While conference foes are bound to play each other a handful of times across a four-season span, the roster continuity of the Hoosier-Hawkeye matchup over that period is unique. Of the ten players expected to start for the two teams on Thursday, half of them recorded points in that double-overtime game in Iowa City. Two of those players, Indiana graduate guard Grace Berger and Iowa fifth-year center Monika Czinano, started in that game three years ago.
The most recognizable player on Thursday, however, was still in high school in January 2020. Caitlin Clark, now a junior guard for Iowa, is one of college basketball’s biggest stars. She averages 27.6 points and 8.2 assists per game this season, both of which are good for second-best in the country, and has recorded nine triple-doubles and six 40-point games in her career.
Between 23-year head coach Lisa Bluder, the All-Big Ten duo of Clark and Czinano and returning the other three starters from last season’s Big Ten title run, the Hawkeyes will not present much of a surprise for Indiana, but their talent is undeniable.
“They're not doing anything different,” Moren said Wednesday. “Caitlin's going to take Caitlin shots and she's going to hit a few — sometimes a bunch. She's a great facilitator as well. And then Czinano is going to be the recipient of a lot of Caitlin's passes — as well as from the other pieces. So, it's a two-headed monster you're going up against but also, they’ve got some surrounding pieces that are really good as well that can knock down shots.”
While Clark has the potential to explode for 30+ points thanks to her unparalleled long-range shots — regularly pulling up from just a few steps past half-court — she hasn’t found the same personal success against the Hoosiers.
In the two games against Indiana when she was a freshman, Clark did score 30+ points in each, but Iowa was unable to get Czinano as involved in the offense and the Hoosiers won both. In the three matchups last year, however, the opposite played out as Czinano — guarded by senior forward Mackenzie Holmes, who was still recovering from an injury — scored 83 points across the three games to just 65 from Clark. Clark averaged over seven assists a game in those contests and Iowa won all three.
While Moren said it’s impossible to completely stop Clark and Czinano, this time around, with a fully healthy and revamped Hoosier squad built around Berger and Holmes — not to mention a much less condensed schedule — Moren said she expects a much tighter contest.
“Monika Czinano is going to score, Caitlin Clark is going to score, and we know that and our kids know that. They're terrific players and so you're not going to keep them from scoring,” Moren said. “But we just have to be true to who we are and lock in on the game plan and lock in on each one of those players, give them different looks.”
In a contest between the Big Ten’s top two teams — both come into the game with just one conference loss apiece — Moren said she expects the game to come down to the little things rather than any single big play.
“A lot of the things that are going to have to happen in the game tomorrow, in my opinion, are not going to be things you're going to find on a stat sheet,” Moren said. “They're going to be other things, the intangible things that we're going to have to be really good at.”
In addition to determining the conference leader going into the final stretch of the year, the game also marks the first regular season contest between two top-5 Big Ten teams since the 1992-93 season. The matchup between the Hoosiers and Hawkeyes will tip off from Bloomington at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.
Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Sebree (@mattsebree) and columnist Matt Press (@MattPress23) for updates throughout the Indiana women’s basketball season.