The Iowa Hawkeyes women's basketball team had a five-game winning streak against Iowa State when it arrived at the Cyclones' Hilton Coliseum in Ames on Dec. 8 for the annual game.
The announced crowd was 11,348 and Iowa State celebrated with a 77-70 victory. Iowa State senior Ashley Joens and Iowa's Caitlin Clark took a combined 54 shots and scored 26 points apiece.
Nearly three months later, Iowa would be hosting Michigan on Feb. 27, a Sunday afternoon, and a victory would give the Hawkeyes a share of the Big Ten regular-season title.
The game sold out in advance. The crowd was announced at 15,058, and the Hawkeyes frolicked to a 104-80 victory, with Clark scoring 38 points with 11 assists.
One night later in Ames, Iowa State was hosting Baylor with a chance to win the Big 12 outright. The game was a near sellout of 13,907. The home crowd suffered through an 87-62 blowout loss, as Baylor won its 12th consecutive conference title.
Thirty-six hours, two collegiate basketball games, combined attendance: 28,965. Iowa long has been different when it comes to a commitment to girls' and women's basketball, and that remains the case.
Monika Czinano is the Hawkeyes center from Watertown, Minn. She's a senior, but has announced she will return in 2022-23 with that free COVID season from 2020-21.
Czinano was on the phone from Iowa City and was asked about that hyped-up sellout crowd two weeks earlier vs. Michigan.
"It was so loud at times you couldn't listen to your own thoughts," Czinano said. "The fans here are so great because they come in all ages. The kids, boys and girls, are getting autographs after games. And then the grandmas come up and tell you about when they played 6-on-6, and how much they loved playing basketball."
Rachel Blount, the Star Tribune's Olympic savant among other duties, had dreams of becoming a backcourt standout for the Van Meter (Iowa) Bulldogs in the late '70s. Blount's varsity time wound up being restricted to playing softball games on the same grass once used by Bullet Bob Feller, the late, egomaniacal Hall of Fame pitcher.
"The three guards in 6-on-6 could not go over the half-court line. And the three forwards could not come to our end of the court,'' Blount said. "As a guard, your job was to play defense, try to get a rebound, take the two dribbles that were allowed, and then try to get it to the tall girl."
What if a team did not have a tall girl?
"You were at a real disadvantage," she said. "I remember the Van Meter star as a tall girl in that era was Rita Marquardt.
"You talk about playing 6-on-6 now and people are amazed, but then, everyone in those small towns of Iowa … they were captivated by it. Little towns, 100 or 200 people, but if they had a great player, she would become a statewide superstar with her photo in the Des Moines Register.
"The state tournament was played at Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines and it was sold out. It was a big deal in Van Meter if someone was able to get a couple of tickets and go to the girls' tournament."
The "tall girl" took most of the shots. In 1968, there was the "Dream Game" for the title between Everly and Union-Whitten. Denise Long averaged 69.6 points per game for Union-Whitten, and Jeanette Olson 59.5 for Everly.
Final: Union-Whitten 113-107 in overtime. Olson scored 76 points, and Long had 64.
Yes, it does sound amazing, but consider this: Iowa had a one-class basketball tournament based on 6-on-6 continuously starting in 1920. Which means, girls were playing basketball and other sports in Iowa for a half-century while most of the country waited for the fallout of Title IX passage in 1972 to do the same.
Get this: In 1970, 20% of all girls participating in high school sports in America were in Iowa, with 1% of the nation's population.
The campaign for five-player basketball was starting by the time Blount graduated from high school in 1980.
"The argument was that by playing 6-on-6, we were costing Iowa girls a chance at college scholarships," Blount said. "The campaign to keep the 6-on-6 was strong."
So strong that from 1985 through 1993, Iowa had one-class tournaments for both 5-on-5 and 6-on-6 basketball. Then in 1994, the state went to several classes of 5-on-5 basketball, which makes today's Iowa basketball fans ecstatic that they can see Clark at her full powers, and not be obligated to first throw the ball inside to her "tall girl" — the 6-3 Czinano.
Then again, this is what Rebecca Lobo, former UConn star turned TV analyst, said last month about Clark:
"Usually when you're going into the WNBA draft, you're looking for comps for a player. In a couple of years when Caitlin comes out, I don't know if there will be a comp, because we haven't seen someone doing what she's doing.
"We've never had a women's player lead the nation in both scoring and assists. She's clearly doing something that has never been done before."
Clark became a national celebrity with the long-range shooting exhibition she put on as Iowa tried to rally in a 98-90 loss at Michigan on Feb. 6. She scored 46 points, including 6-for-13 on three-pointers, and added 10 assists.
Czinano said: "She surprised the world making those shots, but not us. That's her range. We see it all the time in practice."
As for those rapid, out-of-nowhere passes from Clark, Czinano said: "You have to be ready. We spend a lot of time in the gym together. Our chemistry is good, most of the time."
Czinano and Clark were too much for the field in the Big Ten tournament, winning that in addition to the regular-season title. One Sunday later, the Hawkeyes men's team did the same.
This week, Clark received a heap of honors, including unanimous first-team All-America from the Associated Press. Czinano received honorable mention.
The NCAA showed its full awareness of the Iowa rivalry when the bracket was revealed Sunday. The Hawkeyes, a No. 2 seed, and Iowa State, as a No. 3, were both set to host first-weekend games as home teams. The selection committee decided to put them in the same half of the Greensboro regional. Two wins apiece this weekend and the state of Iowa and the NCAA get what they want: a Sweet Sixteen game next week in Greensboro, N.C. — Clark from the Dowling Catholic Maroons in Des Moines vs. Joens from the Iowa City High Little Hawks.
That's right, Joens, a five-star recruit from Iowa City, was not sought with proper enthusiasm by Iowa coach Lisa Bluder. Ashley's father, Brian Joens, went public with his unhappiness over Bluder not joining in the early scholarship offers for Ashley.
In December 2020, he was thrown out of Carver-Hawkeye Arena before the Iowa-Iowa State game for not sitting in his assigned seat during the pandemic.
"Two hundred people in a 15,000-seat gym, I socially distanced, and they kicked me out,'' Joens said on Twitter, blaming the action on Bluder and assistant Jan Jensen.
Only in Iowa, where girls' and women's basketball has been an important part of the scene for over a century, can such a spat become such a statewide drama. And the best act could come up next Friday in North Carolina.