IOWA CITY, Iowa — An overly brisk, crisp, and cold evening led the Hawkeye faithful to Carver Hawkeye Arena for refuge and to watch a much-anticipated match up between No. 22 Iowa and their Big Ten rival, the outranked but venerable Northwestern Wildcats.
This marked the second Big Ten contest of 2021-22 for the Hawkeyes and they were coming in wanting to prove themselves worthy of contention in conference play.
After a postponement of their originally scheduled contest against Illinois on Jan. 2, the Hawkeyes dominated their makeup contest against Evansville, with Cailtin Clark putting on a stellar performance. She scored a career-high 44 points and became the Big Ten’s fastest player to achieve 1,000 career points.
Overall, Iowa is putting up amazing numbers as the Hawkeyes lead the country in free-throw percentage (83.7) and are ninth in field-goal percentage (47.2), 10th in assists per game (18.8), 11th in defensive rebounds per game (30.6), 16th in scoring offense (81), 26th in assist turnover ratio (1.19) and 31st in scoring margin (17).
As for the Wildcats, they had not played a game since Dec. 17 due to a series of cancellations relating to COVID.
But they came in with a 9-3 record and had won the last two matchups against Iowa.
They also have some effective offensive prowess put forth by two players with double-figure scoring, including senior guard Veronica Burton (17.6) and freshman forward Caileigh Walsh (10.3).
From the start, the Wildcats came out fresh and ready to play as they got off to a quick 9-2 lead.
Freshman guard Melannie Daley from New York hit six of their first nine points all from open shots. She would go on to score 10 points in the first quarter.
The Hawkeyes clawed their way back with a three from junior guard/forward McKenna Warnock and Clark making some big drives to the lane and getting to the foul line. However, they were a bit sluggish in getting rebounds at both ends of the floor and committed a couple turnovers that were avoidable.
The first quarter showed a clearly even match up. Iowa got a bit of a boost from junior guard Gabbie Marshall when she hit a three at the buzzer that put the home team up 20-18.
As the second quarter commenced, Iowa fed off that momentum and got on a 5-0 run. But the Wildcats came back after a series of baskets off open jumpers and offensive rebounds.
Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes started to cool on the 3-point line and made a habit of quickly getting off a shot from beyond the arc without really setting up an offense. In addition, the turnovers started to hurt them. But they did get another boost after an administrative technical was levied on Northwestern because coach Joe McKeown didn’t add sophomore forward Anna Morris to the roster when she checked in at the closing of the second quarter. Clark hit both free throws.
That should have helped, but offensive rebounds by Northwestern and a couple crucial baskets kept the game to within a basket going into the half with Iowa up 36-34.
The third quarter got off with both teams storming out of the gates and was defined by a constant back and forth. When Iowa scored, Northwestern scored right after and vice versa. The Wildcats got the upper hand as they led by as much as four toward the end of the period.
The Hawkeyes stayed in the game with some good shots, getting to the line, and doing a bit better on the boards.
With one period left, it was Northwestern up 60-56.
The fourth quarter got off on a similar note with some back and forth. But Northwestern began to grow its lead to as much as seven as Iowa once again started to struggle at grabbing rebounds.
However, a crucial 3-pointer from McKenna Warnock brought the Hawkeyes within a basket at 66-64 with 3:23 left and the crowd at Carver getting anxious. A basket by Monika Ciznano in the paint after a Northwestern offensive foul tied the game.
But a layup off a steal by freshman guard Jillian Brown gave the lead right back to the Wildcats. Everyone held their breath as the clock kept winding down with the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in the air.
But, ultimately, things worked in Northwestern’s favor as a couple Iowa fouls put Burton on the foul line where she converted on each attempt to put the Wildcats up by six. The Backcourt Burglar was phenomenal with 25 points, six rebounds, six assists and eight steals in the game.
Two additional free throws from Daley, who scored 22 points, sealed the deal as Northwestern came out with a 77-69 victory.
Afterwards, Daley spoke to how much her mid-range jumpers speak volumes about her game.
“I would say the mid-range is where I am most comfortable,” she said. “There are other parts of my game where I have to be comfortable but today the mid-range game really showed out.”
Head Coach Joe McKeown attributed much of the victory to the team’s ability to capitalize on grabbing 42 rebounds, particularly scoring off of 14 offensive rebounds.
“I think we got looks as Iowa changed defenses a lot” he said. “It threw us off at times, but we were able to get to the glass, kick it back out, and finish on putbacks, which were big baskets.”
As for Iowa, this loss is hard considering its dynamic offense was halted in all areas, particularly from behind the arc where they were 6-of-26 (23.1 percent).
Also, Iowa didn’t have much coming from its bench as it was Clark, Czinano, and Warnock who scored 21 of the team’s 23 field goals. Clark had 30 points, Czinano had 20 and Warnock had 14.
Before the Hawkeyes hit the road to play Nebraska on Sunday with little rest, Clark spoke of what she would like to see done during practice to learn from this game.
“Just to compete every single day and come to compete” she said. “We are not going to hang our heads because you can’t go back in time and change what happened so why not show up tomorrow and get better? That is all you can do. ... Offensive rebounding, defense, and keep working on our offense and continue to get off as many shots as you can.”
Iowa (7-4, 1-1 Big Ten) takes on Nebraska in Lincoln on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET.
Northwestern (10-3, 2-0 Big Ten) will head home to play Ohio State on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.