By Susan Harman
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Michigan State might want to give Indiana a call to commiserate.
Iowa’s magical Caitlin Clark did it again, made an improbable 3-point shot at the buzzer to win a hard-fought Big Ten women’s basketball game. Clark’s three from near the beak of the Tiger Hawk gave fourth-ranked Iowa a 76-73 victory over Michigan State Tuesday night.
It was reminiscent of her last-second three that beat the Hoosiers in the last regular-season game of the year last February.
The game was tied, and Iowa had the ball with 22 seconds left to try to win it. But it looked like a bunch of kids in the driveway trying to come up with the right pass and right shot as the clock ran down. Clark finally ended up with the ball, faked one way, stepped back and fired a three. Nothing but net. The crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena blew the roof off as Clark strolled down to the other end of the court and soaked in the adulation.
“Caitlin has ice in her veins, and everybody knows it,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said.
Clark said the team wanted to take the last shot. “We ran a play to inbound the ball, and we got it in cleanly,” Clark said. “Molly set a clean pick on my girl, but Hannah’s (Stuelke) defender was up guarding her pretty well (at the high post). So I think it kind of almost worked out in my favor because my girl kind of almost went for a steal, and then I was able to get to my step back to my left.
“Honestly when it left my hand I knew it was going in.”
Clark finished with 40 of Iowa’s 76 points and for the second game in a row made eight 3-pointers.
The Spartans came to play. They were aggressive defensively and physical, especially in the paint. The game was tight the whole way, but Iowa might have had a chance to put MSU away if it hadn’t had a belly flop of a second quarter.
“The second quarter was probably one of the worst quarters I’ve seen of Iowa basketball,” Bluder said. “We just kind of quit running our offense in the second quarter, and that allowed them to get back into the game.”
Iowa led 25-17 after one quarter despite falling behind 8-0 to start the game. But the Hawkeyes managed only 10 points in the second quarter, the worst quarter of the season. In that quarter Iowa made just 4 of 16 shots, and MSU outscored the Hawkeyes by 10 points. MSU scored the final nine points of the quarter.
Bluder said she wanted to concentrate on Michigan State’s 3-point shooting. The Spartans came in averaging 10.5 threes per game, and they finished with seven (out of 21 shots). But that concentration may have given MSU too much room in the paint, where the Spartans outscored the Hawks 45-38.
MSU’s offense was balanced as usual. Only seven Spartans played, but they all contributed to their scoring. Iowa was not balanced. Clark scored 40 of Iowa’s 76 points and took 34 of Iowa’s 67 shots. Hannah Stuelke had 15 points, Molly Davis eight and Kate Martin six.
Bluder’s diagnosis centered on the stagnant offense where players seemed to stand around and finally Clark had to fire off a shot. Davis helped some in the second half with a couple drives to the basket and a couple free throws on a controversial call in the final minute.
Davis was behind the arc in front of the Iowa bench and used a pump fake that sent MSU guard Dee Dee Hagemann flying at her. The officials ruled that Davis was in the act of shooting and awarded three free throws despite MSU’s protests. She made 2-of-3 with 29 seconds left to give Iowa a 73-71 lead. Hagemann tore down the court, down the lane and dropped in a tying basket with 22 seconds left, setting the stage for Clark.
“You know, it was ugly, but it was a win,” Clark said. “And that’s really all that matters at the end of the day.”
“We found a way to win,” Bluder said.
Iowa (14-1, 3-0) travels to Rutgers Friday night.