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Recap: Berger plus Holmes greater than Clark in showdown showcasing greatness of Big Ten as a conference

Both the No. 2 Indiana Hoosiers and No. 5 Iowa Hawkeyes were happy about the attention the game garnered for the Big Ten.

Iowa v Indiana
Mackenzie Holmes (left) and Grace Berger
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Oftentimes, the singular effort of Caitlin Clark is enough to carry the Iowa Hawkeyes to victory. It’s why the No. 2 Indiana Hoosiers, though a more complete team than No. 5 Iowa, had reason to worry entering their matchup with the Hawkeyes Thursday night at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington.

But Grace Berger, who was already a three-time First Team All-Big Ten selection and the 16th-ranked player on Winsidr’s 2023 WNBA Draft big board, played closer to Clark’s level of superstardom than her own with 26 points, nine rebounds and six assists, leading the Hoosiers to an 87-78 win that emphatically backed up their No. 2 status.

Iowa tied the game at 62 on a deep second-chance 3-pointer by McKenna Warnock with 8:25 remaining, but Indiana answered with a 7-0 run and led by at least five the rest of the way. Not surprisingly, clutch freshman Yarden Garzon made the biggest shot of the game: a transition three that made it 67-62 at the 7:39 mark of the fourth. But it was set up by Indiana’s national Player of the Year candidate Mackenzie Holmes poking the ball away on the previous possession and barely saving it from going out of bounds. Holmes also started the run with an offensive rebound-turned-layup. Berger finished it with two free throws at 7:16 to go after a Garzon block on Clark at 7:22.

Holmes shined almost as bright as Berger, finishing with 24 points, six boards and four steals. She leads her team with 22.1 points per game.

Clark (35 points, 10 assists, two steals) converted on a pick-six that cut it to 69-64 with 6:38 to go, but Berger responded with a turnaround mid-range make 19 seconds later.

For the rest of the game, the Hoosiers (23-1, 13-1 Big Ten) always had an answer. Clark made a nice move at the top of the key and drove in for a layup that cut it to 73-67, but Garzon made another three, this one from the left corner, to push it back to a nine-point Indiana lead. A Monika Czinano layup cut it to 77-69, but Berger followed with a short jumper in the paint to make it 79-69.

Iowa (19-6, 11-2 Big Ten) still had hope when a Hannah Stuelke layup cut it to 80-74 with 2:07 remaining, but Indiana scored the next three points on free throws and the Hawkeyes were then forced to foul.

A five-point lead was a big deal in this game. Indiana gained its first five-point lead since 5-0 (8:52 in the first) on a Berger mid-range pull-up in transition at 46 seconds remaining before the fourth. The Hawkeyes followed with a 5-0 run.

WNBA player Erica Wheeler, who decided to return to the Indiana Fever this offseason, was shown celebrating on the Big Ten Network broadcast after a Berger layup through contact barely rolled in to make it 56-54 at the 2:10 mark of the third.

Berger went on a 6-0 individual run that took the score to 45-41 Hoosiers at the 6:36 mark of the third. That was huge because it answered a phenomenal play by Clark. The Hawkeye junior guard had made an incredible behind-the-back dribble and step-back to create space for a perfect swish on a mid-range take that made it 41-39 Iowa.

It just seemed like Clark’s magic would be too much, but Berger made her own incredible play — a difficult layup — to tie it at 41. Two free throws then made it 43-41 and a spin move-turned-layup pushed it to 45-41. Clark may have finished with more points, but Berger was just as spectacular and her performance carried more weight because it was part of the winning effort.

The basket that made it 41-39 Iowa was the first score of the second half. Clark had threatened to become too good for the Hoosiers at the end of the first half as well. She made a difficult reverse layup off a Gabbie Marshall steal, making it 39-36 Hawkeyes with 42 seconds remaining in the second frame. It was vintage Caitlin Clark. But the next score was vintage Mackenzie Holmes. Holmes made a scoop layup, even as she was hit on her shooting wrist by Addison O’Grady, and converted the 3-point play to tie it going into the break.

Both Berger and Holmes answered Clark’s greatness with their own greatness; that’s what it took to get the win.

Holmes scored the first three points of the game and then Sydney Parrish took a steal the other way for a layup that made it 5-0. Back-to-back Clark threes made it 8-5 Iowa and a long pass from Clark to Warnock for a layup gave the Hawkeyes the largest lead for either side in the first three frames at 13-7.

Indiana fought back with a Sara Scalia three that cut it to 13-10, a Berger spin move-turned-layup that cut it to 13-12 and a Parrish three that tied it at 15. Berger made a layup while falling down to tie it at 19 entering what ended up being a closely contested second quarter.

Chloe Moore-McNeil (8-of-8 on free throws) joined teammates Berger and Holmes in double figures with 11 points to go along with nine boards and three helpers. Parrish was 2-of-2 from distance, Garzon was 2-of-3 and Scalia was 2-of-4.

Warnock notched 14 points and 11 rebounds in defeat. Stuelke added 10 points on a 5-of-5 effort from the field, but was 0-of-8 at the stripe.

Indiana was a No. 1 seed in ESPN’s Feb. 7 Bracketology; Iowa was a No. 2 seed.