IOWA CITY, Iowa — With the Big Ten regular-season title on the line, the No. 21 Iowa Hawkeyes stepped out before a sold out crowd of approximately 15,000 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena to take on the No. 6 Michigan Wolverines in their regular-season finale.
The crowd was the largest for an Iowa women’s basketball game since Jan. 31, 1988 against Ohio State.
The Wolverines came in atop the Big Ten standings at 13-3 and the Hawkeyes were in a three-way tie for second with Ohio State and Maryland at 13-4.
Iowa was riding high, coming off two crucial victories over Indiana and an 87-78 victory on the road against Rutgers on Feb. 24. Michigan came having defeated Maryland (71-59) and Michigan State (62-51).
The last time these two played each other was on Feb. 6, with Michigan winning 98-90.
Iowa’s national profile has been surging all season in large part due to the sensational play of sophomore Caitlin Clark. She is averaging 27.1 points, 8.2 assists and eight rebounds per game and has set record after record. She is in the running for the Naismith national Player of the Year award.
The Wolverines also have some talent that dazzles, most notably All-American forward Naz Hillmon.
The Wolverines jumped out on a 9-2 run with freshman Lalia Phelia scoring six of those points off two 3-pointers. But Iowa junior guard Gabbie Marshall got the Hawkeye fans on their feet with a floating 3-pointer at the buzzer that gave her team a boost and cut Michigan’s lead to 25-20.
At the start of the second quarter, a back-and-forth dynamic was very much at play. But it was becoming clear that the Hawkeyes were getting into a groove that was missing for much of the first quarter and the Wolverines were starting to show signs of fatigue. At 8:01, Cailtin Clark scored her 10th point of the game with a big three that put the Hawkeyes within three at 31-28. At 6:32 Tomi Taiwo scored on a crucial drive to the basket to bring them within one at 31-30. At 5:46, Kylie Feuerbach scored her first basket off a missed three by McKenna Warnock, giving the Hawkeyes the lead at 32-31.
After that, the Hawkeye offense went on a 12-3 run featuring six points from freshman forward/center Addison O’Grady and with 2:24 left in the second they were ahead 42-34. The sold-out crowd was in a frenzy.
The Hawkeyes’ trapping defense was able to put better pressure on the Michigan offense in the second, leading to forced turnovers and a couple traveling calls. Also, the Iowa bench was making critical contributions, something it has struggled to do all season.
The second quarter closed with Kylie Feuerbach hitting a three that gave the Hawkeyes a comfortable 53-39 lead going into the half.
Clark had 20 first-half points, while Hillmon and Phelia each had 9.
The third quarter was really the test to see if the Hawkeyes could hold on to their sizable lead or if the Wolverines were to make it a game again.
At the start of the quarter, the teams went back to trading baskets with neither really getting on a roll. At the 5:43 mark, Maddie Nolan hit a crucial three to bring Michigan within eight at 59-51. But at 4:56, Clark came through with her 25th point off a 3-pointer that put the Hawkeyes back up by double digits at 62-51. Clark put on an offensive clinic and was effective at both ends of the floor. At the end of the quarter, the Hawkeyes led 76-59.
The fourth quarter began with Warnock hitting a three to put the Hawkeyes up by 20 at 79-59. At 7:52, Marshall continued the offensive surge when she scored her 10th point off a three that put the Hawkeyes up 87-61 and in clear control.
Iowa came ready to play and made a huge statement as it won the Big Ten regular-season championship for the first time since 2008 with an unexpected blowout victory, 104-80. The Hawkeyes share the title with Ohio State, who defeated Michigan State 61-55.
Clark finished with 38 points and 11 assists,
Afterwards, Kylie Feuerbach, who scored seven points, spoke of what it meant to be able to contribute coming off the bench before the sold-out crowd.
“Just being able to contribute in the way that I did was way fun” she said. “Obviously with the crowd it was really fun and helped us with our momentum.”
Given all the trying times Iowa has been through this season with COVID cancellations and late-season injuries, Clark summed up what she wants everyone to know about this team.
“Having an up and down season, people started to doubt us but everyone in this locker room and the coaches never doubted us for a second” she said. “We are hitting our stride at the perfect time and that’s what you need and once we got everyone back it felt like all of the pieces came together.”
She added that they are hungry for more, heading into March Madness with the goal of winning a national title.