By Susan Harman
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa women’s basketball team had to collect itself at halftime after a lackluster first 20 minutes in which Loyola University (Ill.) got open shot after open shot. The Hawkeyes made certain mental adjustments and took control in the third quarter en route to a 98-69 victory Thursday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
All American Caitlin Clark led the way with her 13th career triple-double: 35 points, a career-high 17 rebounds and 10 assists. Clark’s final assist was to Jada Gyamfi in transition, and the senior was immediately removed from the game with 2:51 remaining.
But that defense.
“Our defense wasn’t very good to begin the game,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “But it got a lot better in the second half. We held them to 23 points in the whole second half.”
The score at halftime was 51-46, and Iowa was fortunate to be ahead at all.
“I think it was just discipline on defense,” Clark said. “Really a lot of the things were things we talked about in the week prepping for this game, and there were some mental errors for us. We were switching our matchups quite a bit, and that can never be an excuse. I think that just comes down to communication and focus.
“And I think that did change in the second half. We were much more locked in on defense. But you have to also give credit to Loyola. They shot the ball really well.”
Bluder said part of the defensive plan was to sag off one player. Loyola made 8-of-19 threes in the first half, and the shots were largely uncontested.
“One person, one time, and then it was off after that,” Bluder said. “It was just not getting the job done defensively.”
Iowa came out with a different defensive mindset in the second half while still scoring at will on offense.
“I think we just tried to build each other up at halftime,” Kate Martin said. “We were a little disappointed with how we came out, and I’m a little disappointed in my leadership there with how we started the game.”
“We came out a little bit more assertive in the second half,” Bluder said.
Iowa was without Gabbie Marshall because of an illness. Marshall is one of Iowa’s best perimeter defenders and a steady hand on both ends of the floor.
Offensively Iowa outscored Loyola 28-15 in the third quarter and 19-8 in the fourth. But both Clark and Martin credited a resuscitated defense for team’s ability to pull away.
“We got stops,” the two said in unison.
“Six of their 15 points were in the last minute, 30 of the third quarter, so I think it was just playing defense and going in transition,” Clark said.
Offensively Iowa didn’t have much trouble. The Hawkeyes shot 50 percent from the field and overcame 17 turnovers.
“Obviously congratulations to Caitlin, triple double, almost impossible to do,” Bluder said. “And she has 17 rebounds tonight. But we had several good shooting performances.”
Bluder mentioned Martin, who scored 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-5 3-point shots and 4-of-4 free throws. Hannah Stuelke scored 20 on 9-of-15 shooting. Sydney Affolter, who got her third career start in Marshall’s absence, scored 10 and grabbed seven rebounds while leading the team in floor burns.
Stuelke started in place of Sharon Goodman in the post. Bluder said it was a decision based on Loyola’s personnel.
Clark’s 17 rebounds – remember she’s a guard—sent her past former Hawkeye forward Krista VandeVenter as Iowa’s 10th all-time leading rebounder. Her point total sent her past former Minnesota player Rachel Banham and former Florida International player Jerica Coley and into seventh place on the NCAA career all-time scoring list.
To top off her night Clark made a gift of her shoes to a girl who had traveled with her family from Springfield, Ill., to see Clark play.
Iowa (12-1) is off over the holiday and returns to play Minnesota on Dec. 30 at 1 p.m. Loyola heads into its break at 6-5.