By Susan Harman
IOWA CITY, Iowa —This time they had to break a sweat. After clobbering Minnesota 105-49 last month, Iowa was extended to the fourth quarter Wednesday before putting the Gophers away, 88-78.
“You’re going to get challenged in the Big Ten no matter who it is,” Iowa guard Caitlin Clark said,
This was an important game for the Hawkeyes (16-6 overall, 10-3 Big Ten) because it’s a game they had to win. It was a home game against a team (11-13, 4-9) that is in the bottom tier of the conference, and Maryland, Indiana and Michigan are among the remaining four league games.
After leading by as many as 13 in the first half, Iowa was clinging to a 62-61 lead to begin the fourth quarter. And that’s where they won the game.
“We got tested in the fourth quarter,” Clark said. “That’s what March is going to be all about. You’re not going to win by 20 points every single game. And we knew they were going to give us their best shot. I thought Monika (Czinano) really settled down in that fourth quarter. I thought she was really good.”
The Hawkeyes scored 11 unanswered points to begin the period, and the Gophers never threatened thereafter. The run came on a drive by Kate Martin; an unbelievable drive by Clark through four Gophers decamped in the lane for a 3-point play; and two baskets and a pair of free throws from Czinano.
“I was really happy with our fourth quarter,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “In that fourth quarter we were 8-for-12 shooting from the field and a perfect 10-for-10 from the free-throw line.”
Meanwhile the Gophers missed four shots and committed two turnovers. The Gophers had no offensive rebounds during that stretch.
“In the fourth quarter we focused on defense, and I think that’s what led to our offensive play,” Czinano said.
Clark finished with 32 points, on 10-of-20 shooting, and had eight rebounds and six assists. Czinano had 23 points, Tomi Taiwo 14 and Martin10.
“I thought Tomi played really, really well offensively and defensively,” Bluder said. “She had the highest plus/minus (point differential) on our team and did a tremendous job defensively with the hardest defensive assignment. But also offensively, she shot the ball well and had a couple steals for us.”
The Gophers were led by guard Deja Winters, a graduate transfer, who poured in a career-high 30 points from all over the court, and Sara Scalia, who had 23.
“They made some tough shots; you’ve got to give them credit,” Clark said. “Their offense was better (than the first game); their transition defense was better.”
Winters was a big surprise, but Scalia was a point of emphasis for Iowa.
“We were trying to keep the ball out of her hands all night,” Bluder said. “But I think she had to work for her shots.”
Gabbie Marshall started and played almost 26 minutes in her first action since suffering a shoulder injury against Ohio State on Jan. 31. She made one 3-pointer, and it came a couple seconds after her first attempt was blocked. The crowd of 8,141 enjoyed that bit of theater.
“It’s good just to have her back and to have depth,” Bluder said.
McKenna Warnock is still out with a right hand injury. Bluder said there was “a possibility” that Warnock could play Monday against Maryland.