By Susan Harman
AMES, Iowa – Iowa took every punch from a scrappy young team, everything that Iowa State’s rowdy fans could dish out and managed to score enough points when it needed them to outlast the Cyclones, 67-58, Wednesday night at Hilton Coliseum.
“We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “They slow the ball down and did a good job with that, but I thought our defense in the second half was really good especially in the fourth quarter when they took the lead.”
“I could not be more proud of how hard they played, the way they played and the way they did things we asked them to do coming into the game,” ISU coach Bill Fennelly said of his team. “And I kind of hinted to them that that game was a bunch of old guys beating a bunch of young guys. That’s what it came down to.”
Like the rest of the recent games in this series this was an aberration of sorts. Accomplished shooters struggled mightily. Fast breaks were few. Assists that there were didn’t light up the dial. Both defenses made it very hard for the offenses to do what they do best.
The game was tied at halftime. Iowa had trouble scoring inside when ISU’s 6-3 Audi Crooks was on the floor. Iowa’s guards tried to drive, and they were either turned away with a missed shot or simply turned and threw the ball back outside.
Caitlin Clark scored all of Iowa’s third-quarter points (14), and Iowa built a 52-45 lead early in the fourth. But it was treacherous going down the stretch.
Iowa gave up the lead to a 9-2 Cyclone run, and ISU took a 55-54 lead. Bluder took timeout to settle things down with 4:14 left.
“Coach Bluder just told us what defense we were in and what offense we were in,” Kate Martin said. “We didn’t need to over-do it. We didn’t need some spectacular speech. We just needed to take a deep breath and to know we had each other’s backs.
“We’ve been in situations like this before. We’ve been in hostile environments before.”
Syd Affolter was fouled and hit two free throws. Then Martin scored in transition and again inside among the bigs. ISU managed one free throw in response. Clark scored on a spin move inside, and Iowa led 62-56. ISU turned the ball over a couple times and missed another shot. Then Iowa just made free throws at the end.
“It was our defensive intensity,” Bluder said. “We got a couple forced turnovers at that point. We got 13 points off turnovers. We spread things out a little bit when they went to a smaller lineup, and I thought we were able to get to the rim.
“We talked about 3-point defense at halftime, and they didn’t have a single three in the second half. Audi Crooks is a great player, and she had four field goals in the first half and ended up with four field goals.”
Bluder cited the defense of Sharon Goodman on Crooks in the post and that of Martin.
“Kate, I just count on her to step up for us,” Bluder said. “We know Caitlin gets all the (defensive) attention, so Kate, people just don’t understand how good she is and how hard she is to guard. She’s explosive off the dribble. She can post you up; she rebounds; she can knock down the three.”
Martin finished with 16 points, four rebounds and three steals.
Count ISU coach Bill Fennelly among the converts.
“I’m a monster Kate Martin fan,” he said. “I thought she was the difference in the game. Obviously, Caitlin is amazing, talented, one of the greatest women’s players I’ve ever seen. But Kate Martin was the difference in the game both offensively and defensively. That’s a kid that gets it. She understands it. She understands her role on the team, and I think you can see her growing even at this age.”
Clark said in the fourth quarter Iowa’s experience made the difference. “
Kate came up with some big steals there; Kate cuts her girl for a couple back-door layups there that extend our lead,” Clark said.
Clark reached the 3,000-point plateau early in the third quarter. She did it on a 3-pointer in transition and then finished with 35 points, nine rebounds and five assists on an otherwise cold shooting night.
“That’s really special; that’s a very hard thing to do,” Bluder said.
Iowa shot only 35 percent from the field and 29 percent from three but still won. Clark made only 12-of-31 shots. Iowa had 63 shots and Clark took nearly half of them.
Hannah Stuelke saw her first action in three games. Bluder said she is on limited minutes and clearly she’s not 100 percent yet. Stuelke scored five points and grabbed six rebounds in 13-1/2 minutes.
Crooks had 15 points and Addy Brown 14 for ISU. The two freshmen combined for 22 rebounds.
Bluder said the young Cyclones will be a force. “I think they’re tremendous. Audi Crooks is absolutely fabulous. They’ve got great young talent.”
“I think a lot of people though we were just going to roll over and die and let them do what they wanted to do, but I thought we showed a lot of tenacity, a lot of fight,” Crooks said.