Iowa women come up clutch
IOWA CITY — Iowa guard Caitlin Clark remembered the text messages she got from associate head coach Jan Jensen during her recruiting process.
“Coach J kept saying, ‘We want to cut down nets with you,'” Clark said.
Two years into Clark’s career, the Hawkeyes did just that.
Clark had 38 points and 11 assists and No. 21 Iowa clinched a share of the Big Ten championship with a 104-80 win over No. 6 Michigan on Sunday.
It’s the first conference regular-season title since 2008 for the Hawkeyes (20-7, 14-4 Big Ten), who shared the championship with Ohio State.
“It’s just so much fun,” Clark said. “I don’t think we could have scripted today any better, honestly.”
“I’m almost beyond words,” coach Lisa Bluder said. “Very fortunate, very blessed.”
The Hawkeyes’ chances to have any piece of the championship seemed small after an 81-69 loss to Maryland on February 14. But they closed the season with four consecutive wins, including victories over contenders Indiana and Michigan in the final week.
“This is when you want to play your best basketball,” Clark said. “And we’re playing our best basketball.”
“These guys kept believing,” Bluder said.
The Hawkeyes had a season-high 16 3-pointers. It was the most points scored this season against the Wolverines, who had the top scoring defense in the Big Ten at 59.8 points per game.
“Iowa played unbelievable,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “They made 16 threes — it’s hard to counter that. That’s a pretty special night for them.”
Clark, who came into the game as the nation’s leading scorer at 27.1 points per game, had a career-high 46 points against the Wolverines in a 98-90 loss on February 6. She was just as effective in this game, hitting 11 of 18 shots from the field, including 8 of 11 in 3-pointers.
She especially enjoyed the 3-pointers she didn’t make, running down court with her arms raised in celebration after getting assists on the threes made by Gabbie Marshall and Kate Martin in the fourth quarter.
“I’ve played in a lot of basketball games in my life, and this was the most fun,” Clark said.
Michigan (22-5, 13-4) had a chance to win the title outright. The Wolverines opened the game with an 11-4 run and led by 11 points in the first quarter before the Hawkeyes took over.
Iowa had a 19-5 run to close the first half and take a 53-39 halftime lead. Clark had two 3-pointers in the span of 23 seconds in the run, while the Wolverines missed 10 of their last 12 shots in the half.
“I think some of our shot selection led to transition for them,” Barnes Arico said. “They were able to get some fast-break points, and that really ignited them and got them going. Their confidence got going a little bit.”
Michigan got to within 67-59 with two minutes to play in the third quarter. But Clark had another burst of back-to-back 3-pointers in a 16-second stretch, and the Hawkeyes kept their double-digit lead the rest of the game.
Monika Czinano added 19 points for Iowa. Marshall had 14.
Naz Hillmon had 18 points and 15 rebounds for Michigan. Laila Phelia had 16 points. Emily Kiser had 12. Maddie Nolan had 11.
MISSING A SHARE
The Wolverines finished a half-game out of the standings because their Feb. 3 game at Illinois was postponed because of travel issues caused by a winter storm. The game was not rescheduled.
“Yeah, it’s pretty crummy, huh?” Barnes Arico said.
She pointed out how the Wolverines had two wins over Maryland, beat Ohio State twice, and had a win over Iowa.
“The reality is we didn’t get to play the game,” Barnes Arico said. “We did everything we needed to do during the course of the year. We’re not co-Big Ten champs, so that’s pretty crummy, because our schedule was arguably the toughest schedule in the league.”
The game was a sellout, with an attendance of 15,056. It was the first sellout for an Iowa home game since January 31, 1988 when Iowa defeated Ohio State, 75-64.
“We dreamed about a sellout arena when we got here,” Bluder said. “Today was amazing.”
“I don’t think people realize a sellout like that doesn’t always happen in women’s basketball,” Clark said.
With the double-double, Hillmon became the first player in Michigan history to have 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career.
Hillmon has 2,079 points and 1,008 rebounds.
The Hawkeyes, who will be the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament, head into the postseason having won four consecutive games and five of their last six.
Michigan, which tied with Maryland for third place in the conference and will be the third seed in the tournament, has lost three of its last five.
The Hawkeyes should take a big jump on Monday, having defeated No. 10 Indiana and the Wolverines this week.
Michigan split its two games this week, and could drop out of the top 10.
Michigan: At Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis on Friday
Iowa: At Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis on Friday.