It was sad irony, really.
One of the most exciting, most watchable teams in University of Iowa women’s basketball history couldn’t be seen in person.
The COVID-19 pandemic kept people out of Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and its counterparts throughout the Big Ten, throughout the nation.
Here’s what they missed — the highest-scoring team in program history, a team that was at its best in March.
“I think it just shows, like, we’re legit,” freshman guard Caitlin Clark said. “We can hang with the best.”
Iowa (20-10) concluded a successful, somewhat surprising season Saturday with a 92-72 loss to top-ranked Connecticut in an NCAA women’s basketball regional semifinal Saturday at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
It was the Hawkeyes’ second consecutive Sweet 16 campaign; they reached the Elite Eight in 2019. The 2020 postseason was axed by the pandemic, and that team was equipped to win a couple of tournament games, too.
“I can’t begin to tell you how far we came (this season),” Iowa Coach Bluder said. “With the pandemic, and not being able to be together last summer, I’m so proud of the team, navigating all of that.”
The season was shortened due to the pandemic, with only four non-conference games. Iowa won all of them, including a memorable comeback against Iowa State.
The Hawkeyes were 6-6 in the Big Ten before winning five of their last seven. They carried that momentum into the postseason.
They surpassed outside expectations with an entertaining, though sometimes flawed, brand of basketball.
At 86.1 points per game, Iowa ranked second nationally, breaking its old offensive school record by about 7 points per game. On the other hand, the Hawkeyes surrendered 80.3 points per contest. Nobody in the nation gave up more.
They served up 20.1 assists per game, but were sometimes turnover-prone and occasionally gave up too many rebounds, particularly on the defensive glass.
Clark was jaw-dropping in her rookie season, scoring 799 points. Her 26.6-point average was tops in the nation, and her 7.1 assists per game ranked second.
Monika Czinano’s field-goal rate of 66.8 percent was at the top of the national chart. The junior post added 19.3 points per game.
Clark, Czinano and all of the other key pieces — including starters McKenna Warnock, Kate Martin and Gabbie Marshall, plus top reserves Tomi Taiwo and Sharon Goodman — return for 2021-22, and expectations will be at their highest of the Bluder era.
“Extremely high,” Bluder said. “Moving forward, we want to be in the Final Four.”
For what it’s worth, the 2022 Final Four will be in Minneapolis.
“The reason I came here, there was a true belief we were going to make the Final Four someday,” Clark said. “We didn’t say we were going to do it in my first year. We knew it was going to be a process; we had to put all the pieces together.
“I think being so young, that just shows we have so much more to work for, but we’re so close.”
The Hawkeyes return 98.1 percent of their scoring for next season. Among teams that won at least one NCAA game, only Connecticut returns more.
Iowa’s recruiting class consists of a pair of 6-foot-3 top-100 players in Allison Ediger (Hudsonville, Mich.) and Addison O’Grady (Centennial, Colo.), plus 5-11 guard Sydney Affolter (Chicago).
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