By Susan Harman
IOWA CITY, Iowa – OK, we’re telling the truth here. Honest.
Defense and Molly Davis helped lead Iowa to a surprisingly lopsided 84-57 victory over defending Big Ten champion Indiana Saturday before a nearly full Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The crowd didn’t hurt either. At least 13-14,000 were in attendance despite below-zero temperatures, strong winds and treacherous roads. About tipoff time Johnson County issued a statement that travel was not advised on its roads, yet they were here.
“They’re amazing and we’re just so thankful to have fans that are so invested in our team, and we’re so appreciative of them,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said.
“I wish we could have played so much better than we did tonight,” Indiana coach Teri Moren said. “Every ounce of credit goes to Iowa; they were terrific. The energy in the building…”
The Hawkeyes, not known for their defense in the go-go Bluder era, were running all over the court to contain Indiana’s fearsome 3-point shooting. Seldom have the Hawkeyes looked so invested on that other side of the court. And they never sagged or slouched or stopped defending the Hoosiers.
“I think everyone knows what this team can do offensively, but tonight they did the job defensively as well,” Bluder said. “I just thought our defense was very, very good.”
Against a team with a 13-game winning streak and a perfect 5-0 Big Ten record, Davis scored her Hawkeye high of 18 points, and she too was part of the defensive success.
“I thought Molly was simply outstanding on Sara Scalia,” Bluder said. “She had 10 points below her average and had to work for every one of them.”
“We wanted to find them early in transition,” Davis said. “We know that they get a lot of transition threes, and then especially on Scalia I knew I had to go over every single screen and find her early in transition. But I think everyone did a really good job of finding their person in transition and limiting their open threes and contesting all the threes.”
Indiana came in averaging 39 percent behind the line, and Iowa held the Hoosiers to 20 percent. IU averaged almost eight made threes per game and had but five in this one.
Most of the trouble came in the second half when Indiana made seven baskets on 25 shots and scored only 20 points. Indiana averaged 81 points and ended with 57.
Bluder pointed out that Iowa nearly matched Indiana for points in the paint even though All American Mackenzie Holmes plays for the Hoosiers.
“To me that’s really good defense because that is their bread and butter, inside there,” Bluder said.
Holmes finished with 16 points, but in the decisive second half Holmes was only 1-for-7 from the field. She also, uncharacteristically, missed five free throws.
Caitlin Clark led Iowa with 30 points, 11 assists and five rebounds. Clark made six 3-pointers. Kate Martin had 10 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Gabbie Marshall made four threes for the third game in a row.
But it was Davis’s performance that caught the fancy of the crowd and apparently the social media audience as well. Molly Davis was actually trending on X in the middle of the game, and she finished with the highest plus/minus (+28) among all Hawkeyes.
Davis scored Iowa’s first basket on a three and the crowd lit up. She had two 3-pointers in the first quarter. But it was in the second period when she kept Iowa’s ship afloat.
Clark was assessed her second foul on an offensive push off. She and the coaches were upset with the call, and Clark was removed from the two-point game for a short time. Davis scored on a drive past Chloe Moore-McNeil and made a free throw to give Iowa a 31-26 lead. Holmes scored at the other end, and then Davis penetrated the lane and passed to Sharon Goodman for a basket.
Davis stole a pass at the other end and went coast to coast to score and put Iowa ahead 35-28. Yarden Garzon answered with a three, but Davis drove down the lane to score again.
Clark finished the second quarter with consecutive threes to give Iowa a 43-37 lead at halftime.
“Offensively and defensively, when Caitlin went out, she moves over to the point guard, and I thought she did a tremendous job leading our team,” Bluder said of Davis.
“You know (Clark) is going to get her average, but you don’t want to let those other guys have big nights, and unfortunately we let too many of them have their way with us,” Moren said. “(Clark) goes out because she gets those two fouls, and then it’s Molly Davis takes over the game and you’re like, that shouldn’t happen, right? But give her credit. She took advantage of the opportunity.”
The second half was decisive.
“Obviously our shooting got a lot better in the second half,” Clark said. “In the first half our transition defense wasn’t all that great. I just think overall our defense was better. We were physical; we boxed out; we didn’t allow a ton of second chances, and we pushed really, really hard in transition. And we started making shots.”
“They were clicking on all cylinders; all of them shot the ball really well tonight,” Moren said. “We weren’t very good. We looked out of sorts offensively.”
Moren thought her team defended Clark well but gave credit to the Iowa All American for finding ways to score despite the defense.
“She’s just that terrific,” Moren said. “I mean, she’s an extraordinarily special player. And she makes things look easy out there.”
Fourteenth-ranked Indiana lost for just the second time all year and is 14-2 overall, 5-1 in the Big Ten.
Third-ranked Iowa improved to 17-1 overall and 6-0 in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes play host to Wisconsin Tuesday night at 8 p.m. in another Peacock game.