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Recap: Clark’s season-high 14 assists lead No. 12 Iowa to blowout win

Caitlin Clark had averaged 6.4 assists over the seven games since her last double-digit assist performance before hitting her distributing stride with 14 on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Hannah Stuelke came off the bench and stepped up in a big way to help propel the Iowa Hawkeyes to a satisfying win.

Phil Knight Legacy Tournament - Women’s Championship: Iowa v UCONN
Freshman Hannah Stuelke
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The No. 12 Iowa Hawkeyes returned to Carver-Hawkeye Arena with a renewed sense of confidence after conquering Michigan last Saturday amidst an uber-competitive Big Ten. With the season at the halfway point and where every win matters, the Hawkeyes came home to take on the unranked Northwestern Wildcats, who had won the last two contests at Carver. In their first home game of the new year, Iowa knows they have to work for every second to remain in good standing both conference-wise and nation-wise.

From the opening bell, it was the Wildcats who wasted no time in getting out on a quick run. Through the first three minutes of the game, they jumped to an 8-3 lead with some good shooting and decent ball movement. Much of that was attributed to Iowa still getting a feel for the game and pushing the ball too quickly, which resulted in two quick turnovers. Six of those points came from guard/forward and graduate student Sydney Wood and sophomore forward Caileigh Walsh.

But as the quarter reached the halfway point, the Hawkeyes were starting to make some inroads. At the 4:49 minute mark, the Hawkeyes claimed their first lead of the game, 12-10, on a driving layup by McKenna Warnock.

As the quarter started to rapidly wind down with neither side calling a timeout, the game started to become an epic back-and-forth battle. Both sides traded baskets and were battling it out on the boards with Northwestern holding the edge for a total of eight compared to the Hawkeyes’ six.

With 1:34 remaining, it was tied at 16. But at the 1:20 mark, it was none other than Caitlin Clark coming through with a three to put the Hawkeyes up 19-16.

Then, she did one better, as she typically does, by hitting her trademark three from the logo with 47 seconds remaining, increasing the lead to 22-16. The last three made Clark the second all-time leading scorer in Iowa history at 2,108 points.

As the second quarter commenced, the bench players got their chance to contribute. A minute in and after two Wildcat free throws, Hannah Stuelke, the Hawkeyes’ secret weapon, asserted her dominance in the paint. She scored her first point, drew the foul, and converted at the line. Then she followed up in a big way after grabbing two rebounds off two missed Clark threes before finally laying it in to put Iowa up 27-20.

At 8:17, Clark converted on two free throws to put the Hawkeyes up 29-20, cementing control of the game.

At the 8:03 mark, Molly Davis added the first highlight of the game with an epic block against Sydney Wood underneath the basket, setting the stage for an amazing run by the Hawkeyes that included some pressure-packed defense, great transition, and excellent shooting.

At 6:57, Gabbie Marshall, who has been struggling to generate points lately, was able to break that spell with a 3-pointer that put the Hawkeyes up 32-22. Then, at 6:20, Stuelke, with great vision of the court, threw a long pass to find Sydney Affolter at the other end for a layup to make it 34-22.

From there, the game was all in Iowa’s hands as baskets from Clark, Stuelke and Czinano completed an astonishing 11-2 run and had the Hawkeyes leading 40-24 with 3:57 remaining. By this point, Stuelke’s contribution was immense as she had nine points and three rebounds; she jogged back to the bench to a thunderous ovation.

The Hawkeyes were clicking on all cylinders and were poised to go into the locker room on a high note. Their defense was largely able to stifle the Wildcat offense and at times forced it into scrambling for a last-second shot with the shot clock winding down.

But the Wildcats were not to be counted out as they were able to work with one basket at a time to keep the game from getting completely out of hand. Their defense was also playing with some added pressure that would force the Hawkeyes to the line to earn points.

With 25 seconds remaining, Stuelke came back in and stole the ball off an inbound pass and took it all the way to the hole to put the Hawkeyes up 47-32 and give her 11 points. Then she continued to play arguably the best game she’s had all season by drawing a charge right along the Hawkeye bench.

At the end of the first half, Iowa led 47-32.

As the third quarter began, Iowa needed to continue to play their game their way to come away with a solid victory. Due to their strong and fast performance in the first half, the risk of fatigue is always a concern.

At the 8:28 mark, Clark was given a technical foul after arguing with the referee over what seemed to be a perceived bad call, but what she was really upset about was missing a basket. Subsequently, WIldcat junior Jasmine McWilliams missed both foul shots.

In a moment that would either fuel the intensity of the Wildcats to claw their way back or fuel the Hawkeyes to push even harder to grow their lead, it was the latter that happened. The Wildcat offense was largely stagnant and the Hawkeyes playing at a much slower pace worked for one basket at a time.

At the 6:49 mark, it was Iowa up 54-36.

In the remaining minutes of the quarter, defense started to become the central theme on both sides. Each offense was scrapping and clawing their way to the basket. Iowa was trying to grow their lead whereas Northwestern was simply trying to remain in the game.

With just under a minute to play, Clark grabbed the rebound and found Stuelke at the other end of the court for an easy two points to give her 15. Then, with seconds left, Molly Davis drove it to the hole for her first two points of the game to finish the quarter and put the Hawkeyes ahead by the lopsided score of 72-47.

The fourth quarter was simply a matter of whether the Hawkeyes would win by as much as 30. But it was noted that Czinano became the fourth all-time leading scorer in Iowa history.

What was evident is that the Hawkeyes once again proved that when they play as a team they win. During the fourth, Clark was held to 20 points, but everyone was included and did their part.

During the first five minutes of the quarter, Clark was dishing out assists left and right and it seemed that everything she touched turned to gold.

She found Taylor McCabe open for three and then found Warnock inside for and easy layup. With her great vision of the court, she found Sydney Affolter open at the other end for the running layup for her first of three baskets. Then she did the same for Addison O’Grady so she could get a piece of the pie.

By the time she reached the bench with under two minutes left, Clark (20 points) had 14 assists as well as nine rebounds for another double-double. She once again showed why she is a standard-bearer for what it means to be the ultimate playmaker and it is no wonder she was named ESPN’s midseason player of the year.

In the end, the Hawkeyes steamrolled their way to a 93-64 win and climbed their way to second place in the conference behind the unbeaten Ohio State Buckeyes. Four players finished in double figures.

Czinano had 18 points six rebounds and three assists. Steulke had a career-high 17 points, nine rebounds, and two assists. Warnock finished with 10 points, eight rebounds, and one assist. Martin had eight points, two rebounds, and two assists. Affloter had six points, two rebounds, and one assist.

Afterward, Clark spoke about the importance of including everyone in securing the victory.

“I think that is when we are at our best,” she said. “Sometimes you don’t know which direction the game is gonna go, but when you have four players in double figures, we usually win the game.”

Iowa (13-4, 5-1 Big Ten) will be back at home to take on Penn State (11-6, 2-4 Big Ten) on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. CST.