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  • Writer's pictureEmma Treptow

Road to the NCAA Championship Game: Iowa Hawkeyes versus LSU Tigers

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

There are only 40 more minutes of basketball to be played until we crown a 2023 NCAA National Champion in Dallas. With March Madness coming to a close, we have our final two teams, both making their championship debuts: the LSU Tigers and Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes entered the tournament as a 2 seed, narrowly missing out on a 1 seed. The Tigers were a 3 seed. There’s been upsets, big moments, stars shining, and everything in between but here’s how these two teams reached the championship game for the first time ever.

#2 Iowa Hawkeyes:

Led by coach Lisa Bluder, the Iowa Hawkeyes are hard to bet against right now. The Hawkeyes finished the regular season with a win over the previous #2 nationally ranked Indiana on a buzzer-beater three from Caitlin Clark. Since then, they’ve been rolling. With Clark and Monika Czinano controlling the floor, the Hawkeyes are on the brink of glory.

Caitlin Clark hugs Monika Czinano after beating South Carolina in the national semifinals on March 31, 2023. Photo courtesy of @IowaWBB /Twitter

With a regular season record of 23-6, dropping one game to both Indiana and Maryland during the regular season. The Hawkeyes were the reigning Big Ten Tournament champions and wanted to retain that title as they headed into the postseason. They did just that. As the no. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament, the Hawks meet Purdue in the quarterfinals, Maryland in the semifinals, and Ohio State in the final. An 11-point win over Purdue rolled into a five-point win over Maryland and finally a rout of Ohio State as Iowa took the title game 105-72. The top offense in the country, the Hawkeyes might not have the strongest defense but can outscore just about anyone, especially with Caitlin Clark on their side.

Their NCAA tournament bid was guaranteed with the Big Ten tournament win, as they were drawn into the Seattle 4 region as the no. 2 seed, and Stanford received the no. 1 seed. As a top-four seed, the Hawkeyes were able to play their first two games at home in Iowa City. They started with 15 seed Southeast Louisiana, knocking them off 95-43, before meeting #10 Georgia for a 74-66 win. With their ticket to the Sweet 16 secured, the Hawks made their way to Seattle for the regional rounds with a matchup against Colorado in front of them. Clark dropped 31 as the Hawkeyes had four double-digit scorers against Colorado to see out an 87-77 win. Next up was Louisville led by Hailey Van Lith. Despite Van Lith scoring 27, the Hawkeyes were simply too strong as Clark lit up the stage, recording the first-ever 30 or 40-point triple-double in NCAA tournament history. She scored 41 points while recording 12 assists and 10 rebounds to send her team to the Final Four for a match-up against undefeated South Carolina. McKenna Warnock and Gabbie Marshall both hit three 3’s in this game to help secure the victory for the Hawks. This marked the first Final Four since 1993 for the Hawkeyes.

In one of the most anticipated matchups in college basketball this season, 2023 National Player of the Year, Caitlin Clark and the Hawkeyes met the 2022 National Player of the Year, Aliyah Boston, and the South Carolina Gamecocks for a spot in the national championship game. The Gamecocks were 36-0 heading into this game and were on a 42-game win, having not lost since March 6, 2022, in a game against Kentucky. The Hawkeyes knew that they needed to be strong on defense while the Gamecocks wanted to try and find a way to slow down Clark.

The latter is much harder than it seems as Clark had another 41-point game, scoring or assisting all of Iowa’s fourth-quarter baskets. During this game, she hit 1,000 points on the season, becoming only the sixth player in DI Women’s basketball history to score a thousand points in a single season. Czinano was huge for the Hawkeyes in this game as Clark was able to find her under the basket for open layups multiple times throughout the night.

When the lights shine the brightest, Caitlin Clark puts on the biggest show. She has shown us that all year long, throughout the regular season and into the tournament. With her teammates around her, the Hawkeyes are looking unstoppable right now.

#3 LSU Tigers:

Prior to this season, the LSU Tigers hadn’t reached the Final Four since 2008. Now in only her second season, head coach Kim Mulkey has the Tigers in their first-ever national championship game. Mulkey, known for her gameday outfits, was a three-time national champion with Baylor, spending 21 seasons with the Bears. Angel Reese, nicknamed the Bayou Barbie, has been the star for LSU this season after transferring from Maryland, averaging 23.3 points per game, which is fifth in the NCAA.

LSU Tigers celebrate after beating Virginia Tech in the national semifinals on March 31, 2023. Photo courtesy of @LSUwbkb /Twitter

The Tigers opened their season on a 23-game win streak before a match-up of the undefeated with South Carolina. Falling to South Carolina 88-64, the Tigers finished out their regular season with an overall record of 27-1. While LSU controlled most games, they had a few close calls, even going to overtime against unranked Georgia before ultimately prevailing 82-77. The Tigers were the no. 2 seed in the SEC tournament and met no. 7 Georgia in the quarterfinals, winning 83-66 to move onto a semifinal matchup with Tennessee. In the two teams’ one meeting earlier in the season, the Tigers secured a 76-68 win over the Vols but the case wasn’t the same in the tournament. The Tennessee Vols upset the Tigers in a 69-67 win to advance to the SEC championship and leave the Tigers questioning where they will land in the NCAA tournament.

LSU received an at-large bid and was placed into the Greenville 2 region, receiving a no. 3 seed as Indiana and Utah took the top two seeds in that region, respectively. Like the Hawkeyes, LSU was able to play their first two games at home as a top-four seed. They met 14-seeded Hawai’i in the first round, winning 73-50 before moving on to play 6th-seeded Michigan. Playing against her former Big Ten rival, Reese put up 25 points, 24 rebounds, and 6 blocks as LSU kept the ball moving in the right direction with a 66-42 win over the Wolverines, booking their ticket to the Sweet 16 and Greenville. She became the first player with 25 points, 20 rebounds, and 5 blocks in a women’s NCAA tournament game since 2000. Once in Greenville, the Tigers met PAC-12 regular season champions, the Utah Utes. In their closest game yet of the tournament, the LSU Tigers edged the Utes as senior Alexis Morris made four clutch free throws in the final ten seconds. Morris finished the game with a total of 15 points while LaDazhia Williams led all scorers with 24. LSU was onto the Elite Eight and upset-minded Miami who knocked off Indiana in the second round and Villanova in the Sweet 16. A 9 seed, Miami had nothing to lose and everything to gain and was the last team standing in front of a ticket to the Final Four for the Tigers. Alexis Morris took charge in this game, scoring 21 points which made up for 39 percent of all points for the Tigers. A 54-42 win booked the Tigers a ticket to Dallas and a meeting with #1 seed, Virginia Tech. This was the first Final Four for the Tigers since 2008.

Back in the Final Four, the Tigers wanted to take it all the way this season but first, they had to get past red-hot Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech, led by head coach Kenny Brooks, had an outstanding season, thanks to the duo of Elizabeth Kitley and Georgia Amoore. With Kitley in the paint and Amoore from three, the Hokies worked their way to be one of the top teams in the country this season. Heading into this Final Four matchup, the Hokies were on a 15-game win streak and coincidentally, it was a 15-point scoring run that helped the Tigers overcome a second-half deficit and prevail over the Hokies. Reese and Morris combined for 51 points for the Tigers while Flau’jae Johnson only had seven points but one of the biggest presences on the floor that helped the Tigers win 79-72 over Virginia Tech.

The “Bayou Barbie” is the first player to record 100 points, 70 rebounds, 10 blocks, and 10 steals in a single NCAA tournament and she will look to keep adding to that in the national championship game. LSU has made history just by making the national championship game but they want it all.

Angel Reese vs Caitlin Clark. LSU vs Iowa. Tigers vs Hawkeyes. It all comes down to this. Today on ABC at 3:30 PM EST.


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