Caitlin Clark got the only 21St Birthday present she wanted, a win at Ohio State. And along with him, the Iowa women’s basketball team got an overdue payback.
All the Hawkeyes did in recording Monday night’s 83-72 win at Columbus’s Value City Arena was the highest-ranking away win in program history; The Buckeyes carried a 19-0 record and finished No. 2 in this game, televised by ESPN2.
Despite the Hawkeyes’ success in recent years, they had lost to Ohio State four times in a row – in the opener of the 2020 Big Ten tournament, just before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the NCAA tournament; twice in the following season; and in the lonely encounter last year when the Buckeyes’ physical play at Carver-Hawkeye Arena resulted in starters Gabbie Marshall and McKenna Warnock being injured and each missing several games.
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder then blew up the office; Warnock was (her word) ‘ambushed’ in a crucial late game sequence without a call in that 92-88 loss. The Hawkeyes and Buckeyes would end up tied for the Big Ten regular-season title, with Ohio State earning the No. 1 spot in the conference tournament (which Iowa won).
“[Ohio State]has come after Carver for the last two years and beat us,” Bluder said in her post-game radio interview. “So it was nice to return the favor.”
Here are some more thoughts on the rousing win for Iowa (16-4), who are now 8-1 in league play and now in a three-way tie with Ohio State and Indiana for first place.
The summary of Columbus:How the Hawkeyes brought down the 2nd state of Ohio
An award-winning performance for Caitlin Clark
Despite their striking first- and runner-up stats, Iowa’s Superstar Guard has yet to win Marquee National Player of the Year awards. This drought seems increasingly likely to end with Clark’s continued epic play.
Clark became only the second player — man or woman — to hit a triple-double against an Associated Press top-two team. Her 28 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists against the Buckeyes means she and Marquette’s Dwyane Wade hold that honor. Clark’s season averages are up to 26.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game.
What was most impressive about Clark’s performance was that she very consciously tried to involve her teammates from the start. This is an underrated part of their game. She doesn’t pad her assist stats – she really does play a selfless style to make sure as many teammates get heated up as possible… which ultimately means she draws less defensive attention to herself later in games, and that’s good for the Hawkeyes.
On Monday, Clark shot the ball just once in Iowa’s first nine possessions and twice in the first 13. She had five assists before her first basket. Ten of her 15 assists came from the dependable Postmonika Czinano, who finished with 22 points on 11-of-13 shooting.
Though Clark ended up with seven turnovers, she was never out of control. She made countless daring passes, perhaps her best being a fast break bounce pass that separated two buckeyes to lead to an easy Marshall layup. She sensed when to take over, when to bow to others, and when to make contact and get to the foul line. Clark’s 28-point outing included two of her signature “logo” 3-pointers in the first half and a 9-for-10 shooting from the foul line.
Clark previously scored 43 points against Ohio State, but Iowa came up short. On Sunday she celebrated her birthday. On Monday, she picked up her first-ever win against the Buckeyes.
How did Iowa score 83 points despite going 6½ minutes without scoring?
That’s hard to do. After taking a 56-44 advantage on Sydney Affolter’s putback with 5:56 left in the third quarter, Iowa didn’t score again until the fourth. The 9,955 crowd roared as the Buckeyes’ defense pressed Iowa and Czinano was benched with four fouls. The Big Ten’s No. 1 offensive game went without a goal 11 times in a row, but the Hawkeyes kept their composure on the road and played well enough on defense to hold on to a 56-54 advantage early in the fourth quarter.
Write to an experienced, battle-hardened lineup to keep calm. Senior Kate Martin quietly had a double-double of her own with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Senior guard Molly Davis (on her first career start in Iowa, Warnock was out with a rib cage injury) stepped forward and ended the long drought with her only points of the game — just a top-of-the-key 3 33 seconds in the fourth quarter — that settled the amount. And of course credit Clark, who had nine points, four rebounds and five assists in the fourth quarter alone. Clark played the maximum 40 minutes on Monday.
Hannah Stuelke continues to grow up.
For the second Big Ten game in a row, Czinano struggled badly. On Wednesday in Michigan State, Czinano fouled 22 points in 22 minutes in an 11-on-11 shooting night. But her long stretches on the bench then meant that Stülke had to step up. She did so with seven points and nine rebounds in the Hawkeyes’ imperfect but exculpatory 84-81 overtime win.
Stülke was ready to go again on Monday when her number was called. Within seconds of being substituted into the game, she grabbed the first of 13 rebounds that would become a career-high. The 6-foot-2 Cedar Rapids Washington rookie has shown attacking flashes, but what’s most impressive — and most needed for this team — is her relentless dedication and ability to floor-race. She plays hard and it pays off. Her active presence and superb hands helped Iowa dominate Monday with a 51-31 rebound advantage on the glass.
In a notable first-half sequence, Stuelke attempted to score against imposing Ohio State center Rebeka Mikulasikova but failed. She rushed back to the defense, and after Davis retrieved a loose ball from under the basket, Stülke immediately whipped her body around and went the other way in a dead sprint. Her diligence was rewarded. Davis turned the ball to Clark, who dribbled once and threw a perfectly thrown chest pass that went at least 50 feet over the top of Ohio State’s retreating defense. Stuelke, still running, caught the ball in the crotch and gave Iowa a 36-28 lead from the glass.
Iowa covered 94 feet in one dribble — thanks to Clark’s pass and Stuelke’s speed. She finished with eight points in 21:47 of the game, while Czinano was held up until 23:48 on fouls. Stülke has become one of the most important players on this team, offering Czinano a reinforcement she didn’t have a year ago.
A crucial win for the Big Ten tiebreakers, but a long way to go.
In a postgame video shared by Iowa Women’s Basketball on social media, Bluder tells her team during the locker room celebration, “The sky’s the limit for you. This team can do anything they want if they put their minds to it, just like you did today. The heavy makes us better. The hard makes us big. We’ve been through the hard. You’re really, really good.”
Iowa has won 11 of their last 12 games after losing three games last season (Kansas State, UConn, North Carolina State), including five in a row. As of Tuesday morning, it had moved up to No. 2 in ESPN’s NCAA tournament projection. This was the Hawkeyes’ only meeting of the regular season against Ohio State. They won their lone date against then-No. 14 Michigan (also en route) a few Saturdays ago on national TV.
Next up: Saturday vs. Nebraska (12-8, 4-5), which Iowa always seems to play hard. After the win, Clark tweeted, “CARVER ON SATURDAY VS. NEBRASKA, NEED YOU ALL THERE.”
After that, the game schedule really ramps up in February – including two games against all-time leaders Maryland (16-4, 7-2) and two against Indiana (18-1, 8-1). Those results could very well decide who wins the Big Ten regular-season title. But now we know that if Iowa draws level with Ohio State overall, it will get the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered esports for The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen for 28 years. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.