‘A generational leader’: Kate Martin’s poise helps Iowa women’s basketball advance to Final Four

ALBANY, N.Y. — Kate Martin had one of the best games of her collegiate career in one of the most important moments in women’s basketball history.

It was a highly-anticipated rematch of last year’s national championship, with millions of people tuning in across the nation. A chance at revenge for the Hawkeyes, who were sent packing by the LSU Tigers last season after giving up the most points in an NCAA title game.

Iowa guard Kate Martin celebrates during an NCAA Tournament Elite Eight game between No. 1 Iowa and No. 3 LSU at the Hilton Hotel in Albany, N.Y., on Monday, April 1, 2024. The Hawkeyes defeated the Tigers, 94-87.

When you think of Iowa women’s basketball and its historic 2023 postseason run, your first thought is probably Caitlin Clark.

But Iowa wouldn’t find itself in the Final Four for the second straight year without Martin’s leadership over the past six seasons and her 21-point performance against LSU on Monday night.

Throughout Clark’s basketball career, which started at age five, she’s never had a teammate quite like Martin, who she called “the best leader she’s ever been around in [her entire life].”

The pair has started 137 consecutive games together at Iowa, the longest streak by any Division I duo in the last 25 years.

“Caitlin’s a generational talent. Kate is a generational leader,” associate head coach Jan Jensen, Martin’s aunt, said.

Martin said she and her teammates don’t look at LSU as a rival, and they didn’t even speak about last year’s heartbreaking loss.

The Hawkeyes didn’t care who their opponent was in the Elite Eight, they were going to manifest themselves cutting down the nets at the end of the night regardless.

This visualization of success went so far that the Hawkeyes were passing around scissors at shootaround Monday morning, each taking a turn to practice how they would snip off their piece of nylon after advancing to the national semifinals.

“I’m a huge believer in visualization,” Martin said. “I do it before every single game. You have to visualize positive things, and they’ll come to you.”

Those positive manifestations paid off in the end, and Martin admitted it felt good to come out on the winning side this time around against the Tigers.

“It’s always nice to get a second chance in life, and we don’t always get those,” Martin said. “We got another chance of playing them, and we capitalized.”

Whether it was the fadeaway jumper in the fourth quarter when LSU was trying to claw its way back in the game, one of her many drives to the hoop, or words of encouragement in the huddle when Iowa gave up 31 points in the first quarter and trailed by five — Martin embodied her well-known nickname, “The Glue.”

Martin said she’s most proud of her team for being resilient and having an answer whenever LSU went on a run.

She added it wasn’t necessarily a point of emphasis for her to get to the rim so often, but the Hawkeyes were “just taking what was open for us.”

Jensen said Clark’s older brother, Blake, called Martin “Dirk” after the game, comparing No. 20 to Dirk Nowitzki, whose step-back fadeaway was lethal during his 21 seasons with the Dallas Mavericks. Martin let out a laugh at the compliment.

“I think that fadeaway jumper was pretty much big time there in that fourth quarter,” Jensen said. They got [our lead] down to 10 or eight, but Kate was like, ‘Uh-uh, I don’t think so.’”

Head coach Lisa Bluder thought Martin did a “tremendous” job defensively against Aneesah Morrow, who the head coach said is a little bit of a “mismatch down underneath” for the Hawkeye. Morrow ended the game with 14 points and 14 boards.

“Aneesah Morrow is a great player, and I think me and Kate both guarded her — Kate guarded her for a lot of the game,” said Iowa third-year Sydney Affolter, who recorded 16 points and five rebounds against the Tigers.

“They beat us on the glass, but I think in the second half, we really stepped it up and focused on our box-outs and defense.”

Bluder chose Martin to update the bracket in the locker room, moving Iowa’s name to one of the Final Four slots. Making the trip to Cleveland along with Iowa are undefeated South Carolina, North Carolina State, and the Hawkeyes’ next opponent, UConn, who boasts star guard Paige Bueckers.

“I feel super grateful to be a part of this team and a part of this program,” Martin said after the Elite Eight win. “I’m just going to enjoy this one for now.”

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