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Opponent Preview: No. 1 UConn women’s basketball vs. No. 5 Iowa

The Huskies are scheduled to meet Caitlin Clark and the Hawkeyes in the Sweet Sixteen on Saturday.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Syracuse at Connecticut Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

UConn women’s basketball with face off against Iowa in the Sweet Sixteen on Saturday with a trip to the Elite Eight on the line. The Hawkeyes are 20-9 on the season and are coming off an impressive 14-point victory over No. 4 seed Kentucky in the round of 32.

Iowa is ranked 15th in Her Hoop Stats ratings, making them the toughest team by that measure that the Huskies have faced other than South Carolina this season. In comparison, Arkansas checks in at 19th and Tennessee at 23rd.

What makes the Hawkeyes such a threat is their offense. They’re second in the nation in scoring, averaging 86.6 points per game and do so incredibly efficiently, scoring more points per play than any team in the nation. As a team, they shoot over 50 percent from the floor, over 40 percent from deep and nearly 80 percent from the charity stripe.

Much of Iowa’s offense runs through their elite freshman Caitlin Clark, who has already become one of the best scorers in the country and might be one of the toughest individual matchups the Huskies have seen all season. But as much hype as the guard matchup of Clark versus Paige Bueckers is getting, the battle in the post could be just as intriguing. The Hawkeyes get 19.4 points per game from Monica Czinano, who dominates inside and shoots nearly 67 percent from two-point range. Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Aaliyah Edwards will once again have a tough defensive challenge inside.

UConn will need to look to limit both Clark and Czinano to avoid getting into a shoot out with Iowa. However, a shootout in this case might not be lethal for the Huskies.

“There’s some games you go into and you just go, ‘we might have to get 90 and hope we win 90-89,’”, UConn head coach Geno Auriemma of the matchup.

Putting up 90 points probably wouldn’t be too much of a challenge for UConn, because for as good as Iowa is offensively, they are equally bad defensively. The Hawkeyes allow 79.9 points per game, which is the second most in the country. Even adjusting for the strength of their Big Ten schedule, they rank 177th in Her Hoop Stats’ defensive rating.

Czinano will be a challenge for UConn’s frontcourt defense, but on the offensive end they should still be able to pound the ball into the paint with ease. When matched up with the Big Ten’s best bigs in Michigan’s Naz Hillmon and Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes, Iowa wasn’t able to slow them down. Both Hillmon and Holmes dropped over 20 points on the Hawkeyes in all of their meetings this season. UConn will likely pose an even tougher challenge to them with the one-two-punch of Nelson-Ododa and Edwards.

Keys to the game for the Huskies:

Control the pace

Iowa averages over 75 possessions per 40 minutes of game time, which ranks 26th in the nation. Kentucky made the mistake in the round of 32 of allowing the Hawkeyes to play at their tempo. UConn can run with the best of them, but will be better off if they play the game at the pace they want to.

Crash the glass

Iowa ranks in the bottom third of the country for both offensive and defensive rebounding rate, per Her Hoop Stats. UConn’s presence inside with Nelson-Ododa and Edwards and their trio of strong rebounding guards should allow them to limit Iowa’s second chance opportunities and create their own on the other end.

Limit Iowa’s transition opportunities

The Hawkeyes’ offense, and Clark in particular, are particularly lethal when they can get out in transition. If UConn can limit Iowa’s chances for easy buckets, they’ll make their own job easier on the other end of the floor.

Predicted results

Per Her Hoop Stats, the Huskies have a 85.1 percent chance of coming up with the win over Iowa, with a predicted margin of victory of 14.8 points.

Whether UConn exceeds that margin of victory will largely depend on how well they contain Clark. If they can hold Clark to under 20 points, their margin of victory could exceed 20 points.