There is a picture in the Czinano household in Watertown taken in the spring of 2018.

It was just after Watertown-Mayer had lost, by three, to Maranatha Academy in the sectional final. Monika Czinano, a senior, is hugging little sister Maggie, a freshman.

"We thought it would be the last time we were on a basketball court together,'' Monika said. "That's why this game is so special.''

"This game" is Saturday night's game in Iowa City between the 16th-ranked Hawkeyes and the Gophers. Monika is one of five returning starters from the Iowa team that won both the regular-season and tournament titles in the Big Ten last year. A center, she is back for a fifth year, thanks to the extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted players during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maggie is a sophomore wing for the Gophers who overcame a litany of injuries and illnesses as a freshman to become a top player off the Gophers bench.

Saturday, in front of a large crowd that will include the Czinano extended family and a bevy of custom-made T-shirts that are half-Gopher, half-Hawkeye, the two sisters will have one more chance to be on the court together.

"She knows it's been my dream for a long time,'' Monika said. "And I know it's her dream, too.''

Said Maggie: "I am trying my best to put my emotions aside for the game. But I'll be feeling emotion afterwards.''

Sibling secrets

As with many families, there is a strong bond, and a feisty rivalry.

Earlier this week the two sisters did a video call with the Big Ten Network, and, among other things, they were given opportunities to dish dirt on each other.

"I got Maggie's take on that call,'' said Theresa Czinano, their mother. "Then I went out to dinner with Monika [before Iowa's victory over Iowa State this week], and she told me her side.''

At one point Maggie shared a story of sneaking downstairs to open the garage door for Monika, who was past curfew.

"Monika said, 'She wasn't supposed to talk about that,'" Theresa said. "And Maggie was like, 'I wanted to win the competition.' Monika was really mad.''

But the bond is clear. One game day Theresa noticed Monika had "M&M'' written on her hand. "I asked her what it meant, and she said it was for Maggie and Mallory [the youngest sister],'' she said. "Monika said, 'Yeah, I play for them.' I nearly cried.''

Last season, while Iowa was storming through its season, Monika and Maggie talked constantly. It was a difficult year for Maggie, who dealt with multiple ankle injures, a lingering flu-like illness and a parasitic infection that nearly claimed the sight in one of her eyes. She played in just a handful of games, missing both Iowa-Minnesota games.

"I called her once a week,'' Maggie said. "She had words of wisdom. Keep your head up. There is so much coming for you. Keep working hard.''

Gophers' turn?

One thing Maggie always heard from Monika was how close the Iowa team was. She could see it, too, when she went to Iowa City to watch a game. Frankly, she was a little jealous, wondering what that would be like.

This year's young Gophers team — coach Lindsay Whalen starts four freshmen and a sophomore — is starting to feel that way.

"I wanted that kind of bond,'' Maggie said. "We've started to grow something here that fans have been able to see.''

Monika looks at the young Gophers and sees potential. "They have the time to grow into themselves,'' she said. "Kind of like my team has. It's our third year with our starting five. I think she's going to have that, which is cool.''

As Monika said, Maggie is her sister. But not during the game. They don't play the same position, but Monika has been teasing Maggie about her desire to get switched onto her at some point, hoping to block her shot. "She's been telling me that for years, trust me,'' Maggie said.

But after the game, they will meet on the court. Perhaps another picture for the Czinano home.

Correction: Previous versions of this story misstated the name of the sisters' mother.