By Susan Harman
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Caitlin Clark, bum ankle, bloody nose and all, took control of a tense, close, physical game and brought the Iowa women’s basketball team to a much-needed victory Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Clark’s 33 points and the times at which they were delivered helped Iowa overcome Belmont, 73-62, before 8,277 fans.
The victory was important for Iowa (4-1) coming off its first loss at Kansas State and heading into some powerful competition in the next three games.
“It was a good way for us to bounce back,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said.
Bluder gave an assist to the crowd, which really cranked up the noise late in the third quarter. That came when Iowa led by only three points after having squandered a 12-point lead. Clark took over, hitting two 3-pointers, making two steals and hitting a fastbreak layup after one of those steals.
“We have such a really good home-court advantage,” Bluder said. “When in that third quarter we got on a roll and Caitlin hit those threes, I mean, it was so loud.”
“We just had to give them something to get excited about,” Clark said.
Clark aggravated a sprained ankle in the final play at K-State but looked fine in warmups and in the game.
“There was swelling but not a lot of pain, so I knew I was good to go today,” Clark said.
However she caught an elbow on the bridge of her nose and had to leave the floor just four minutes into the game to stop the bleeding. After playing less than 12 minutes in the first half she played nearly the entire second half.
“It was kind of my own fault,” Clark said. “I went for a steal and I caught the elbow.”
The teams went back and forth, and Belmont got within four points in the final quarter when Gabby Marshall hit a big 3-pointer, and Clark hit a 17-footer off a nice screen from Monika Czinano. Kate Martin added a free throw and Clark scored on a drive with another Czinano screen. The final possessions were a series of free throws as the Bruins were over the limit for the quarter.
Clark scored 24 of her 33 points in the second half.
“I thought our defense was really good today,” Bluder said. “Held them to 37 percent shooting, 27 from three. (Belmont guard) Destinee Wells is the preseason player of the year in the Missouri Valley, and we did a really good job on her. We held her to nine points; she was 4-for-17.”
Marshall and Molly Davis were the primary defenders on Wells, although Iowa used a zone part of the time.
Iowa had a 32-25 halftime margin and only built that when Belmont’s 6-0 senior Nikki Baird was on the bench with two fouls. Baird had 10 first-half points on 4-of-5 shooting and was hard to replace. She ended up only playing 26 minutes.
Generally Iowa prefers to have multiple players score in double figures but only Clark made it Sunday. Bluder attributed that to Belmont’s ability to slow the game down and limit the number of possessions. Czinano was blanketed inside and got only nine shots off, finishing with nine points but she had 10 rebounds.
Again, Iowa got good shots beyond the arc, especially in the first half but made only 1-of-10. The Hawkeyes finished 7-of-24 (.292).
Iowa had a big advantage at the foul line. In the first half Iowa was whistled for one foul, and Belmont did not shoot a free throw. Iowa ended up making 18-of-23 (.783) to Belmont’s 8-of-11. The Hawkeyes committed a season-low six turnovers, something that hurt at K-State when the Wildcats converted those miscues into 22 points.
Iowa heads to Portland, Ore., for one of the Phil Knight tournaments this weekend. Iowa plays Oregon State (4-0) Friday and then either Duke or UConn on Sunday. Those games will be televised.
— Iowa Women's Basketball (@IowaWBB) November 20, 2022