Before a sold-out crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the No. 6 Iowa Hawkeyes looked to close out the regular season on a high note as they took on the very talented No. 2 Indiana Hoosiers. Due to Indiana capturing the outright Big Ten regular season title, the Hawkeyes weren’t in a position to recapture what they had achieved last year. However, they were still in position to secure a No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament in Minneapolis.
They did just that and then some.
From the start, the energy was palpable beyond belief and the Hawkeyes fed off of that as they quickly jumped out to a remarkable 13-2 lead. Sharpshooting, superb ball handling and ferocious defense were key. Already the crowd was on their feet with some encouragement from Caitlin Clark.
Toward the halfway point of the quarter, Indiana started to come back with some decent shooting of their own and by taking advantage of a couple of Iowa turnovers. At the 5:17 mark of the first, the Hoosiers had gone on a 6-0 run to cut the Hawkeye lead to 13-8.
Knowing that the momentum was starting to switch, the Hawkeyes relied on their defense and crashed the boards to stay in command. It also helped when Clark made a 3-pointer from the logo at the 4:31 mark to put them up 16-8. Then, Kate Martin converted on a 3-point play at 4:18, putting the Hawkeyes up 19-8.
But for every run the Hawkeyes made, the Hoosiers were there to answer right back. As the quarter wound down, Indiana made some significant inroads courtesy of their top player Mackenzie Holmes. Her inside precision helped cut the Iowa lead to three at 21-18 with 1:37 left in the opening frame.
With 12 seconds left, the Hawkeyes had a chance to get one more shot off and who better than Clark to be the one. She took it to the hole to lay it up off the glass just before the buzzer, giving Iowa a 23-18 lead.
The Hawkeyes were shooting 61.5 percent from the field, and had eight total rebounds and nine total assists. Clark and Martin had eight points apiece.
As the second quarter commenced, Iowa went back to the quickness that got them ahead. Their pressure-packed defense remained intact even with a few Hoosier baskets. They were able get on the break and generate some points. However, the Hoosiers started to claim the momentum with some very similar fast-paced play, particularly on the defensive end, as they were able to generate additional turnovers leading to some points.
With 5:53 remaining in the first half, Iowa’s lead had been cut to one at 30-29.
But Iowa certainly was not about to let this lead evaporate so quickly. Clark and Martin had become a dynamic duo. They relied on shooting from the outside and, when the opportunity presented itself, took it to the hole to draw the foul and go to the line. All of this helped the Hawkeyes increase their lead to 35-29 with 4:54 left.
The atmosphere in Carver had begun to quiet down as Indiana continued to battle their way through and found themselves once again knocking on the door of capturing the lead for the first time in the game. The Hawkeye defense had begun to back off so as to avoid having the team’s top players in foul trouble.
At 2:19, Grace Burger hit a jumper to give the Hoosiers their first lead of the game at 37-36. At 1:43, Clark found McKenna Warnock inside for a quick layup that gave the Hawkeyes the lead back at 38-37.
With the seconds ticking down to halftime, the Hawkeyes found themselves once again in position to get one more shot off as they trailed by one. And, of course, it was Clark coming to the rescue as she just beat the shot clock with a running floater to give Iowa the lead back at 40-39 going into the locker room.
Iowa had cooled down from the field, shooting 40 percent and 28.6 percent from 3-point range, but they were 75 percent at the foul line. Clark had 16 points, six assists, and four rebounds. Martin had 13 points and two assists. Monika Czinano had two points and six rebounds.
The Hawkeyes began the third quarter needing to get out on a run. Clark was, as expected, the catalyst as she was able to score the first four points of the quarter. Then, Martin followed suit with a hook shot in the lane that put the Hawkeyes up 46-39 and got the crowd at Carver on their feet again.
After a 3-pointer by Sydney Parrish that cut it to four, Clark generated more excitement at the 6:55 mark of the third, as she was fouled underneath the basket but managed to put it in to make it 48-42.
With 5:11 remaining before the fourth, Clark found Warnock open for three in the corner, which Warnock converted to put the Hawkeyes up 51-42. However, the air went out of Carver when Warnock was called for a foul on the other end, which resulted in a 3-point play by Sydney Parrish that cut it to 51-45.
At 4:18, Chloe Moore-McNeil hit a wide-open three that cut Iowa’s lead to three at 51-48.
Suddenly, the Hoosiers were back in the swing of things. Clark took that to mean that she needed to put on the superhero cape. At 3:09, she took it to the hole, drew the foul and converted at the line to make it 54-48 Iowa.
At 2:45, Martin remained lights out as she hit a big 3-pointer to make it 57-48, but Moore-McNeil answered right back with a three of her own at 2:36 to make it 57-51.
Czinano, who had been struggling in the paint, was able to go to the free throw line and connect on both attempts to make it 59-51. Moore-McNeil picked up her fourth foul on the play.
As the third quarter came to a close, it was still anybody’s game. The Hawkeyes were holding on to the slight edge and the Hoosiers were starting to surge. With 3.8 seconds remaining, it was Clark again going to the foul line for two after another hard drive to the basket. She converted on both to make it 61-58, giving her 27 points and creating some breathing room for the Hawkeyes going into the fourth.
Iowa was ten minutes away from making its biggest statement of the season. The Hawkeyes held the lead, but were in the midst of an epic back-and-forth battle and needed to play smart at both ends of the floor to carry themselves through.
At 6:16 remaining in the contest, Parrish hit a huge 3-pointer to give the Hoosiers a 70-68 lead.
When play resumed after a full timeout, Gabbie Marshall answered back with an epic 3-pointer of her own to reclaim the lead for Iowa at 71-70. Everyone was on pins and needles anticipating something spectacular. It came at the 5:27 mark when Czinano scored off the glass, was fouled and went to the line to convert on the extra point, which gave the Hawkeyes a 74-70 lead.
At the 4:37 mark, Molly Davis stole the ball and took a solo drive to the hoop to make it 76-70 Iowa. But the Hoosiers followed up with two baskets of their own to make it 76-74. By this time, the Hoosiers had four of the players on the floor scoring in double figures, whereas Iowa had only two in Clark and Martin.
At 2:43, Parrish hit two free throws to make it a one-point game at 77-76. At 2:31, Czinano scored off a feed from Warnock to make it 79-76 and get the crowd on their feet. The intensity was red hot as Holmes scored underneath, drew the foul, and converted at the line to tie the game at 79 with 2:15 remaining.
At 1:21, Czinano came alive to give the Hawkeyes an 81-79 lead, but then Holmes answered back to tie it up. With just under a minute to play, Holmes drew her fourth foul, putting Czinano at the line to shoot two crucial free throws. She made them both to give her 13 points and put the Hawkeyes up 83-81.
A classic finish was in the making and with 34.9 seconds remaining, Moore-McNeil hit two free throws after being fouled by Clark to tie things up at 83.
Everyone held their breath as Iowa had possession of the ball. With the chants of “Let’s go Hawks!” reverberating, the ball found its way into the hands of Czinano in the paint. She missed a basket that would have given the Hawkeyes the lead and Indiana got the ball back with 4.6 seconds left.
The Hoosiers inbounded the ball and Czinano was called for fouling Holmes inside the lane with 1.5 seconds left. The Hawkeyes contended that Holmes traveled which led the referees to determine the call at the scorer’s table. The call stood and Holmes was at the foul line to shoot two and potentially give the Hoosiers the lead. She made both free throws to put them ahead 85-83 and immediately the Hawkeyes used their second-to-last time out.
In the end, the ball would be in the hands of none other than Clark. She got an excellent screen set by Czinano, got the ball, turned around, faded away while off-balance and hit the three at the buzzer for the most exciting moment of this NCAAW season. Thus, the Hawkeyes came away with a tremendous regular season-ending victory, 86-85.
Clark finished with 34 points, nine assists and nine rebounds. Martin finished 19 points and four assists. Czinano finished 13 points and nine rebounds.
Afterward, Clark reflected on the buzzer-beater within the context of the magnitude of the game being showcased on national television, what it means to the growth of women’s basketball and playing alongside Czinano and Warnock.
“You can’t ask for anything better,” she said. “I think across the board not just great basketball players but also great role models especially these two (Czinano and Warnock) seniors that are leaving us. I’ve been lucky enough to be teammates with them and they’ve taught me a lot. I am all about growing the women’s game and I’m glad I gave something little girls can probably scream about at the top of their lungs.”
Czinano described the mentality of going into the conference tournament now that the pressures of getting to that point have passed, and talked about being able to play in her hometown of Minneapolis.
“We have to flip a switch when tournament time comes because the regular season doesn’t matter anymore,” she said. “It’s really special for me to have that in Minneapolis, getting back to my home state, but it is a really grueling, competitive three-day stretch, so mentally getting as ready as you can.”
Iowa (23-6, 15-3 Big Ten) will take on the winner of Purdue/Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals on Friday at 6:30 p.m. ET.