IOWA CITY — Hoping for a good affair after two grueling road trips, Iowa’s No. 6 women’s basketball Sunday afternoon received the exact opposite.
Missouri Valley Conference newcomer Belmont was named the league’s preseason champion and showed exactly why at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Bruins jabbed and jabbed at Iowa for 40 minutes, stifling the offensive flow and forcing the Hawkeyes to pick up the slack defensively.
Iowa did, just in time to avoid disaster.
Caitlin Clark dealt with the Hawkeyes’ shooting problems with a red-hot run late in the third quarter, and Iowa’s defense choked in the fourth quarter, resulting in a 73-62 win in front of a solid crowd at the Carver Hawkeye Arena.
Concerns in November don’t always translate into adversity throughout the season, but the Hawkeyes still needed a clean performance after working overtime to beat Drake last Sunday and stumbling at Kansas State on Thursday. The latter saw Iowa pull out a late lead in what was hardly a display of top-10 skill.
While those two contests were largely dominated by defensive issues, Iowa’s clunky offense was Sunday’s hurdle. Shots were not regularly fired from the depths. Passes miss the mark, which often don’t. Even Clark took a while to warm up after absorbing an accidental elbow to the face early in the first half.
The all-America shooter came just in time to clear some serious angry vibes. Eight points in 52 seconds — back-to-back treys and a fastbreak layup — took Iowa from three to 11 in the final minute of the third quarter. That was part of a lengthy stretch in which Clark scored 15 consecutive Iowa points.
Belmont didn’t get possession for the rest of the game thanks to a smothering defensive line that limited the Bruins to just two field goals in the final seven minutes. But Clark still had to suppress some nervous energy. A pull-up jumper and driving layup officially ended the Bruins.
In a rare script change — Iowa’s offense needed time to get going — the Hawkeyes’ defense took control late in the second quarter.
The Bruins didn’t score over the final 5:40 of the first half and missed 10 straight shots after even drawing 25-25. Some of the clinchers were just bad tries – most were controversial shots. The Hawkeyes only scored seven points themselves in that fast-paced stretch, but it was still a productive formula for finally finding a breakup.
Not the prettiest performance, but Sunday’s effort kept the Hawkeyes from losing consecutive nonconference games for the first time since November 2018. That should get Iowa back on track to compete in the Phil Knight Tournament in Portland this week.
Dargan Southard is a sports trends reporter, covering athletics in Iowa for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Dargan_Southard.