In the final moments, Iowa did exactly what you expect from a second-seeded basketball team trying to make the Sweet 16: It fed the rock to one of its best scorers. Down by two points to the 10th-seeded Creighton Bluejays, with 3.6 seconds remaining, Kate Martin got the ball to Iowa’s highest scorer of the game, Monika Czinano. Czinano pivoted, her jump shot landed on the rim, and then it rolled right off. The rebound fell to Hawkeye McKenna Warnock, but her tossed-up shot only grazed the net. The ball once again fell to a Hawkeye, this time Martin, but it was too late. Zeroes flashed on the clock. It was all over, save for the massive Bluejay celebration happening on the court.
I’m honing in on the final seconds, but the entire game was pure drama. Creighton took the early lead and, surprisingly, held on. Or, perhaps, not surprisingly if you watched the game. The top scorer in the nation, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, was held to just 15 points, while Czinano scored 27. After Clark and Czinano, the point totals for the Hawkeyes get pretty bleak. The next highest come from Warnock and Gabbie Marshall, who ended the game with six apiece. The team’s final score of 62 was, per Mechelle Voepel at ESPN, their lowest in two seasons and on what was a home court, since the game was played in Iowa City, Iowa.
And yet, Iowa did take the lead a few times. Their last lead came during the fourth quarter. With a little under seven minutes to go, the Hawkeyes moved ahead on a Marshall three-pointer. Then Czinano made a jumper, and the Hawkeyes held on, always scoring just enough to stay ahead of the Bluejays, until they didn’t. With 15 seconds left, Lauren Jansen, who transferred to Creighton from Iowa, hit a three-point dagger to put the Bluejays ahead by one. Its was a lead they would never relinquish, earning the team’s first-ever Sweet 16 appearance.
This was far from the only upset of the women’s tournament so far. Fifth-seed Virginia Tech fell to No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast. Princeton, sitting at No. 11, defeated sixth-seeded Kentucky. And 12-seed Belmont knocked off fifth-seeded Oregon in double overtime. (Yes, I know, Florida Gulf Coast probably should have been higher seeded, and Belmont also defeated No. 5 Gonzaga last season as a 12 seed.)
Statistically, the front runners usually win out in March Madness because that’s the math. But it’s the upsets that make it fun, and the women’s side of March Madness has had some absolutely gems so far. There tends to be hemming and hawing about the lack of upsets in women’s basketball—which usually leaves out the key context that women’s basketball, like many women’s sports, hasn’t had nearly as much time nor money nor broadcasting nor opportunity thrown at it than the men’s side. This isn’t to say that you should grade women on a curve, it’s rather to point out some comparisons just aren’t as logical as they appear at first glance. Nobody expects a 44-year-old and, say, a one-year-old to operate at the same level of anything, and yet men’s basketball (which held its first NCAA championship in 1939) gets compared to women’s basketball (which held its first NCAA D1 championship in 1982) all the time. That’s before untangling the long history of how women’s sports were created to keep women at a lower level than men. Yes, women’s sports needs more money. It always needs more money. But also, just let them cook!
Creighton’s players have until Friday to catch their breath before their next game. They play the winner of Georgia-Iowa State, which tips off later on Sunday night (and might be decided by the time you read this blog). I, of course, have decided to immediately hop on the Bluejays bandwagon and root for them to go all the way. I have no clue if that’s likely or logical or wise, but so what. Creighton is rolling. They had three players score double digits on Sunday. They scored clutch threes, hitting seven from beyond the arch while holding Iowa to a paltry three. They were just fun to watch. I don’t know how long the Bluejays can keep dealing, but for now they are still dancing.