ESPN highlights Hannah Stuelke as Iowa Hawkeyes’ key ingredient for deep tournament run

ESPN asks an important question. Is sophomore forward Hannah Stuelke the key for Caitlin Clark and the No. 3 Iowa Hawkeyes making another deep NCAA Tournament run?

Listening to Iowa associate head coach Jan Jensen, it sure seems so.

“As (Stuelke) goes, we can go. The higher she takes her game, the higher it’s going to help us go,” Jensen told ESPN.

As senior superstar Caitlin Clark authors another magical season, it’s Stuelke who has been aboard the largest rocket ship. After averaging 6.5 points and 3.9 rebounds in 12.9 minutes per game last season, the 6-foot-2 forward has increased those numbers to 13.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in 20.9 minutes per game this season.

Clark is within reach of repeating as national player of the year as she propels the Hawkeyes to a 16-1 record despite losing two multi-year starters, most prominently the Robin to her Batman in Monika Czinano. But Stuelke, the Hawkeyes’ second-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, has helped Clark establish Iowa as a contender again this season. And for the Hawkeyes to make it back to the Final Four in what could be Clark’s final year in Iowa City, they’ll need Stuelke to continue on her current trajectory. – Alexa Philippou, ESPN.

Of course, Iowa entered this season replacing its former starting center, Monika Czinano. The 6-foot-3 big from Watertown, Minnesota, had an almost telepathic relationship with Clark.

Trying to replace that overnight was unrealistic. So, Jensen and Iowa didn’t want the Hawkeyes going into this season attempting to do that.

“That was the biggest challenge is to get (the post players) to shut out everybody who kept saying, ‘Well, you don’t have Monika.’ ‘Well, Monika was this.’ I said, ‘We don’t. It was fun. We had her, but this is who we are this year. This is who you get to be, and we don’t have to be that. In fact, that’s not how you’re wired. But hey, you’re wired like this,'” Jensen said.

And what Iowa gets to be is a team that perhaps even better utilizes some of Clark’s unique passing ability.

Stuelke was always central to Iowa’s plans of replacing Czinano, though her athleticism brings a different look to the position than the Hawkeyes previously had. Jensen, who works with Iowa’s posts, calls Stuelke a prototype power forward, one capable of stretching the floor with an outside shot she worked on over the summer. But the Hawkeyes have determined they need Stuelke more at center since the season started, encouraging her that even if she’s a bit undersized, her quickness and versatility create mismatches.

Iowa can do a bit more from the perimeter now because Stuelke can handle the ball and create outside the paint, using her speed to get to the basket. Her offensive rebounding (nearly three boards per game) also gives the Hawkeyes more opportunities to score, a nightmare for opponents.

Moreover, her rim-running ability is perfectly suited for an Iowa offense that thrives in transition. No one enjoys that aspect of her game more than Clark, who “loves her running target that’s 700 meters away,” Jensen laughed. If Clark is Patrick Mahomes of her beloved Kansas City Chiefs, Jensen said, Stuelke is Clark’s Travis Kelce. – Philippou, ESPN.

Of Clark’s 131 assists on the season, 35 have gone to Stuelke. That figure is tied with graduate guard Kate Martin for the most on Iowa’s team.

Stuelke’s continued development looms large in the Hawkeyes’ ultimate chances to capture the Big Ten championships, return to the Final Four and then cut down the national championship nets.

As she matches up against All-American Mackenzie Holmes of Indiana tonight, Stuelke has another chance to realize just how far she’s come in her development.

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Story originally appeared on Hawkeyes Wire