Coming off a loss to No. 2 Indiana on the road, the No. 5 Iowa Hawkeyes came back home to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in the first of their final three home games of the season. With a Big Ten title hanging in the balance and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament up for grabs, the Hawkeyes know that every game from this point on is a must-win regardless of who they’re playing.
Right from the start, they wasted no time and got out running. An opening layup by Kate Martin, a three from Caitlin Clark and two free throws by Monika Czinano gave them a 7-0 lead.
But as the quarter reached the halfway point, the Scarlet Knights were playing with more reckless abandon than most had anticipated. They would go on a 7-2 run before coming within a basket at 9-7. All seven of those points were scored by freshman guard Kaylene Smikle.
It was a back-and-forth battle with Iowa holding on to to a slight lead, but the Rutgers defense working tirelessly to try to stifle the Hawkeyes’ highly explosive offense with added pressure and double-teaming Clark at the top of the key every chance they got. With 4:43 left in the first, the Hawkeyes led 12-10.
After a full time out, Clark would delegate as only she can. She would find Hannah Stuelke underneath the basket on a fast break for a layup and then find an open Molly Davis for three. She was only just beginning as she looked to Czinano inside and thus the Hawkeyes were up 19-10.
The final stages of the first had plenty of hustle and bustle being demonstrated by both sides. Iowa was the obvious better team, but Rutgers was holding its own with tenacious defense and some effective offensive moves to keep the game within reasonable reach.
But it was Davis who would establish the Hawkeyes’ overall dominance in the most dramatic way possible to end the quarter. She watched the clock tick down and then when the time was hers, she took a solo drive to the basket, let it float, and with a friendly rim put the Hawkeyes up 29-18.
Molly "Buzzer-Beater" Davis— Iowa Women's Basketball (@IowaWBB) February 12, 2023
END 1 | Iowa 29, Rutgers 18 @davismolly14 x #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/rQsn4H1wQ7
Davis had eight points after one. Czinano had seven and Clark had six.
The second quarter saw the Hawkeyes come alive and it was their defense that was the spark. They crashed the boards and intercepted the passing lanes, leading to steals by Clark and Steukle. As a result, they went on an 8-0 run and with 8:09 left, they led 37-18.
At the 6:00 mark, it was McKenna Warnock who got them to a 20-point lead (44-24) off a feed from Clark.
Clark was dishing out assists left and right as she was perfectly content with 10 points at the mid-point of the second quarter. Her stellar 20/20 vision of the court allowed her to do wonders with the ball, including an epic bounce pass from mid-court to Davis for an easy two points.
At the 4:47 mark, Iowa led 49-24.
The Hawkeyes would go on to put on an offensive clinic for the remainder of the half and would outscore the Scarlet Knights 31-10 in the second quarter to lead 60-28.
Davis had an amazing first half as she was a critical factor on the offensive end. She scored 13 points, was handling the ball well and followed Clark’s lead in terms of being able to direct the offense to create opportunities.
The third quarter felt more as if the Hawkeyes were able to take off the pressure. They had built such an impenetrable lead that they had nothing really to worry about and they could just play for the fun of it, while maintaining that fire-at-will attitude. They largely took their time on offense and were content with setting something up rather than pushing the ball up.
Their defense put in just the right amount of intensity.
The relaxed approach put them towards a 50-point lead with still an entire quarter to play. It was Stuelke who got them there (86-36) with a layup that would give her 10 points.
Meanwhile, the reserve players got their chance to shine and one in particular came through in epic fashion. Freshman guard Taylor McCabe put on a highlight reel with two three pointers that got the bench in a frenzy and would make her the fifth Hawkeye to reach double figures. She had 12 points and the Hawkeyes led 97-42 going into the final quarter.
Ball. Movement. @caitlinclark22 x @ShateahW x @_taylormccabe pic.twitter.com/O0IbYAgb1C— Iowa Women's Basketball (@IowaWBB) February 12, 2023
Get you a hype squad like ours @_taylormccabe x #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/GTwd8zw68N— Iowa Women's Basketball (@IowaWBB) February 12, 2023
The Hawkeyes played together as a team with tremendous joy after enduring a tough loss with the postseason coming up rapidly. A whopping 111-57 win gave the Hawkeyes a new school record for points scored, their 20th win of the season and their 10th consecutive home victory dating back to Dec. 7.
Davis finished with a game-high 17 points to go along with two rebounds and two assists. Clark had 15 points, a game-high 10 assists and four rebounds. Czinano had 15 points and five rebounds. McCabe had 12 points and two rebounds. Stuelke had 10 points and five rebounds.
Clark finished with a double-double in only twenty minutes of play. Also, every Hawkeye managed to score.
Afterwards, Davis walked through her strategy to get off that last shot to end the first quarter.
“We were running one of our end-of-shot clock plays,” she said. “Usually they double Caitlin so I faked the ball to her and I saw an open lane and took the floater and got a nice roll from the rim.”
Coach Lisa Bluder expressed optimism about the future of the program after witnessing the performances by Davis and McCabe.
“We have tremendous confidence in both of these young ladies along with several others that came off the bench,” she said. “Truly you can see what both of these women are capable of doing. I am always excited about the future.”
Iowa (20-5, 12-2 Big Ten) will be back at home to take on Wisconsin (8-18, 3-11 Big Ten) on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. ET.