The No. 4 Iowa Hawkeyes came back home to take on Belmont University of the Missouri Valley Conference with a unique sense of urgency after experiencing their first loss of the season against Kansas State last Thursday in a stunning upset. Certainly not what they had anticipated or what others had expected this early in the season for a team with such high hopes. However, they still remain ranked in the Top 5 and their superstar Caitlin Clark, who went down with an apparent ankle injury during the final seconds of the Kansas State game, was back where she belonged in the starting lineup as if nothing had happened.
With determination to erase the memory of last Thursday, the Hawkeyes marched onto their home court with a vengeance and all signs were pointed to a clear and decisive victory against the Belmont Bruins (RV, seven points).
From the start, the Hawkeyes wasted no time in pushing the tempo, but it was somewhat to their detriment. They had some good transition play and ball movement, but they missed shots they would normally make and turned the ball over at times when they really needed to get adjusted to the game. Meanwhile, the Bruins opened up solidly as they were also able to move around the ball with effectiveness to the point where it left the Hawkeye defense scrambling.
The Hawkeyes looked rather sluggish and played at a much slower pace than they are used to. At the 5:41 mark of the first, the Bruins led 10-7.
When play resumed, the Hawkeyes were doing everything right, but they weren’t able to convert when they should have. They went back to moving the ball around and found some good open looks both inside and outside, but the ball just wouldn’t go in. There also seemed to be a lack of energy on their part and you didn’t see the same spontaneous joy that they usually bring.
Nevertheless, they were still in it.
At 2:31 in the first, after the Hawkeyes had been down by as many as five points, McKenna Warnock hit a big three to make it a two-paint game at 14-12. Then, with 2:05 left before the second, she was fouled taking it to hole and subsequently hit two free throws to tie the game at 14.
At the 1:32 mark of the first, Clark hit a fadeaway jumper to give the Hawkeyes the lead at 16-14.
It looked as if the Hawkeyes were starting to regain control of the game, but as the final seconds ticked away in the first, the Bruins got the lead back at 18-16. With 3.6 seconds left before the second, Clark was fouled and hit both free throws to tie the game at 18 and that is how the quarter ended.
After a rather dull first quarter, the Hawkeyes needed a spark now that they broke a sweat. A few seconds into the second quarter, Belmont’s Sydni Harvey hit a three to give the Bruins the lead at 21-18. But at the 9:23 mark of the frame, Clark tied it up after converting on an epic drive to the basket and following it up with a free throw.
At 8:51, Monika Czinano hit an outside jumper that gave the Hawkeyes the lead at 23-21.
It was becoming noticeable that the Hawkeyes were playing with much more energy, but Belmont was remaining competitive. Whenever it looked as if Iowa was ready to get on a run, the Bruins were right there to quickly answer back.
At 4:36, the Hawkeyes led 27-25.
Iowa was desperately looking to get something going and at 3:38, Hannah Stuelke put it up 29-25 with a put-back layup.
What was becoming abundantly clear was that Iowa was shooting poorly from beyond the arc, which is one of its strongest attributes. The Hawkeyes were a meager 1-of-11 (16.7 percent) during the first half compared to their overall field goal percentage of 34.5 percent.
With 1:24 to go before the break, Molly Davis gave the Hawkeyes the largest lead of the game to that point at 31-25 after taking a dramatic drive to the basket. As the quarter came to a close, the Hawkeyes had to rely on basket attempts other than threes to get them through.
Going into the locker room, the Hawkeyes led 32-25.
The beginning of the third quarter was a make-it-or-break-it stretch for Iowa. It was obviously the better team, but needed to show that more. It was unsure if the Hawkeyes were going to be able to recover from a bleak first-half performance from the 3-point line, but this team has provided so many surprises that it is wise to never say never.
The Bruins’ Madison Bartley hit the first basket to start the half and make it 32-27. The shooting woes for the Hawkeyes continued as they weren’t able to follow through on some open jumpers or layups in the paint. At the 7:46 mark of the third, Gabbie Marshall momentarily broke the spell with a jump shot that put Iowa up 35-27.
After a brief exchange of baskets, the Hawkeyes and the crowd at large were given a boost that they were largely lacking throughout the game.
At 6:53, Kate Martin hit the second three of the game for Iowa to put it up 38-31. After a Bruins bucket, Molly Davis added a three of her own to put the Hawkeyes up 41-33. Then, after a quick feed from McKenna Warnock, Davis scored a crucial layup to give the Hawkeyes their largest lead of the game at 43-33 with 5:56 left in the third.
Iowa was given new life and was starting to play exactly the way it should have all along. The Hawkeyes executed in transition and their defense was playing with much more aggression and intensity. However, they still had to contend with the Bruins, who weren’t about to go away lying down. The Bruins found themselves in the bonus and took the ball to the hole, drawing fouls as often as they could.
At 3:42, the Bruins were able to cut their deficit down to six at 45-39 after guard Tuti Jones hit two free throws. Then, at 3:15, Clark scored her 14th point on a running jumper to put the Hawkeyes up 47-39. At 3:00, Harvey hit a big three for the Bruins to make it 47-42. At 2:10, guard Destinee Wells hit a shot to make it 47-44.
Toward the conclusion of the third quarter, the Bruins were making some significant inroads, leaving the Hawkeyes needing to do whatever it took to hold the edge. Just as it seemed that the tide was about to turn, it was none other than Clark who came alive at the right time.
At 1:28, she hit a big three to give her 17 points and the Hawkeyes a 50-44 lead, bringing the crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena to their feet. She then did one better with 1:00 left in the third by hitting yet another 3-pointer and giving the Hawkeyes a 53-44 lead. She then completed the run with an open layup after a steal to increase the lead to 55-44.
At the end of the third, the Hawkeyes led 55-46.
The fourth quarter began with the Hawkeyes just needing to play hard and smart to win the game. Belmont had been giving them a run for their money and they weren’t fading away by any stretch of the imagination.
At 8:50, Clark came through again with a three that gave the Hawkeyes a 58-49 lead and her 25 points.
But the Bruins would answer back when it looked as if the game was out of their hands. They hit some crucial baskets and were largely holding their own at both ends of the floor.
At 7:12, Jones hit a three for the Bruins to cut it to 58-54 Hawkeyes.
At 4:06, Marshall hit a three to make it 63-56 Iowa. At 3:30, Clark scored her 27th point off a good screen set by Czinano to make it 65-57. Those two baskets looked like a turning point and gave the Hawkeyes the comfort level to win.
With some noticeable encouragement from Clark, the fans brought the energy and at 1:43, Clark scored her 29th point on a drive to the basket to make it 68-57. She had finally put the game out of reach. The Hawkeyes went on to win 73-62.
Clark finished with 33 points, five assists and two rebounds. Czinano had nine points, 11 rebounds and two assists. The Hawkeyes ended up shooting 42.1 percent from the field, 29.2 percent from the 3-point line, and 78.3 percent from the free throw line.
Afterward, Clark gave Belmont credit for keeping the game competitive and emphasized the importance of not taking any opponent for granted.
“We did not overlook Belmont by any means, we knew they were a great team,” she said. “This is the type of team you see in the NCAA tournament so we wanted to treat it just like that and I thought we did just that.”
The Hawkeyes (3-1) will travel to Oregon to compete in the Phil Knight Legacy College Basketball Tournament against Oregon State (4-0) on Friday at 7:30 p.m. CST. If they win they will take on either Duke or No. 5 UConn on Sunday.