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Clark and Hawkeyes focus on defense

Clark and Hawkeyes focus on defense

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IOWA CITY – Caitlin Clark gets it.

So does Monika Czinano, McKenna Warnock and the rest of a starting lineup that returns intact for the ninth-ranked Iowa women’s basketball team.

When the Hawkeyes take the court Thursday for a 6:30 p.m. exhibition game against Truman State at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the emphasis will be on defense.

That has been a point of emphasis since a 20-10 season ended in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tourney last March, giving up 92 points in a 20-point loss to Connecticut.

Offense typically wasn’t an issue for Iowa last season.

Across the country at the Division I level, only Maryland averaged more than the 86.1 points the Hawkeyes scored per game.

But, no team gave up more than the 80 points per game Iowa allowed last season.

“I think our team understands that we got to the Sweet 16 with a tremendous offense, but we could have went farther if we would have had a good defense as well,’’ Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said.

“They want to go farther and they know what is hindering us from making that advancement.’’

Defense, or more specifically a lack of defense, is an area that Iowa addressed throughout the offseason.

Clark, who led the country in scoring and assists last season, believes that change involves more than technique.

“I think just straight up caring about it is where it starts for all of us,’’ Clark said. “It’s about us wanting to be good at defense. I don’t think that was really in the back of our minds because we knew we could outscore people. We knew if they scored 90, we could score 93 on them but we don’t want to do that this year.’’

Clark said in many ways, the Hawkeyes view a stronger defensive presence as a way to build greater leads and finish off opponents earlier.

“In some respects, we want to make it easier on ourselves,’’ she said.

Bluder said there have been some schematic changes made to Iowa’s defensive objectives this year.

But, she agrees with her players that successful execution first involves a buy-in from the Hawkeyes that they want to become a good defensive teams.

“We have a pretty good recipe for offensive success, but our defense needs to improve,’’ Bluder said. “Rebounding and defense, those are things we have to get better at.’’

Czinano said an improved defense has become a priority as Iowa works toward its lone preseason exhibition prior to Tuesday’s 6 p.m. season opener against New Hampshire.

“We’ve had practices where we worked on offense for 10 minutes and the rest of the time, we spent on defense,’’ Czinano said. “I think we’re preparing ourselves the best we can that way. A lot of it is just switching our focus a little bit.’’

Warnock sees that focus changing a bit.

“We know we have to become a better on defense,’’ Warnock said. “We have the experience to do that and we see how it can help us. If we want to have the type of season that we can have, it has to start with how we defend.’’

She believes that will benefit the Hawkeyes on the boards as well.

“I feel like they’re connected. If we defend better, we’ll be better positioned to get rebounds and that will help us get our offense going,’’ Warnock said.

Clark doesn’t disagree.

Iowa will continue to push tempo on the offensive end of the court but expects to benefit from improved defensive play.

“One leads to another,’’ Clark said. “And, we’re making defense a priority this year because we see how it can help us achieve our goals.’’

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