By Susan Harman
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Creighton, Iowa’s opponent Sunday at noon in an NCAA second-round game, is a deceptive team. Iowa players say the Bluejays play “small ball.” But when they say small ball they don’t mean diminutive, necessarily.
“They basically play all guards,” Iowa’s Caitlin Clark said. “All of them can shoot. It’s just their style. I always has been. A lot of screening action on the perimeter. So we’ll basically be defending from the outside/in. And it’s not what you usually see in the Big Ten.”
“It’s important to guard the 3-point line because they are a good 3-point shooting team,” Iowa junior Gabbie Marshall said.
The Bluejays shot a combined .368 from behind the arc, 11th in the nation. By contrast, Iowa shoots .351. Every player on their roster has hoisted a three this year, and nine have made at least 14. The Jays are led by former Hawkeye Lauren Jensen’s 76 threes. Morgan Maly, 6-1, has 71 and Emma Rosniek, also 6-1, has made 40.
But there’s more.
“Their girls can go inside and post up and do that, but they can all shoot the three at the exact same time,” Clark said.
There’s the rub. Creighton doesn’t have a traditional post like 6-foot-3 Monika Czinano or 6-4 Addison O’Grady. But they counter with a variety of players from 6-1 to 5-11 who proved against Colorado that they can more than hold their own against true “bigs.” The Bluejays clearly have weight program that enables players, large or small, to physically battle inside or outside.
So if you focus on the small ball, will Czinano or O’Grady be left alone on the island of the lane? Creighton cut up Colorado’s defense with back cuts and screens to free cutters while the Buffs tried to stop the bleeding elsewhere.
“I think it all depends on matchups and who they have in the game,” Clark said. “And obviously help side (defense) will be a key for us, and being able to see our ball and the player at the exact same time. (The Jays have) a lot of screening action.
”That’s why you watch film; that’s why you go through practice. But those will be keys to the game for us for sure.”
Offensively the Hawkeyes see Czinano, an honorable mention All-American who shoots .678 from the field, as a big advantage. But they have to get the ball into her hands, something that took a good quarter of action against Illinois State. CU coach Jim Flanery has promised that his post players have studied Czinano’s tendencies in preparation.
“I feel like Monika is a key,” he said. “She’s so efficient. She’s a product of a team that passes and shoots well.”
“I think we should get Monika the ball no matter who is guarding her, a big or small, no matter what,” Clark said. “I thought she did a really good job finding her teammates and setting open three looks. I think she’s done a great job of that this year, passing out of double teams, triple teams. That’s a lot harder than it looks.
“But not only that, driving will be huge for us, cutting hard, getting our feet in the paint is really key.”
None of this is a surprise to Iowa coach Lisa Bluder. Bluder’s team has scrimmaged Creighton before the last several seasons including this one. Players from both sides said their opponent was pretty much the same at this stage but much improved. Jensen, of course, played for Iowa as a reserve last season before transferring. So there are no secrets.
“Very offensively explosive,” Bluder said of Creighton. “Can shoot the three really well. Passes the ball really well. They do some of the things we like to do. And it could be a real track meet (Sunday).”
Flanery agreed: “It will be up and down. Both teams are better offensively than defensively. But we have to be a little careful. We might have to slow it down at times to take the crowd out of it.”
Bluder reiterated that the Bluejays have talented reserves and everyone Flanery puts on the floor can score thus increasing the likelihood of a high-scoring game.
“When you put five players on the floor that can hit threes, that’s hard to defend,” she said.
Then Bluder made a confession: “I was actually hoping to play Colorado. I thought we matched up with Colorado a little bit better, because with Creighton playing a five-guard offense, basically, it’s harder for us to defense them.”
There’s nothing small about small ball.