Fresh off a week-long holiday hiatus and riding high on a five-game winning streak, the No. 12 Iowa Hawkeyes were back in action as they took on the unranked but respectable Boilermakers of Purdue. Amidst the competitiveness that has come to define the Big Ten, the defending conference champions came in looking to make a statement. That statement is that they can hold their own even as teams such as Purdue and their Sunday opponent Illinois are rising. A win would momentarily solidify their place as one of the top contenders in conference play. A loss could jeopardize their status and make them have to work twice as hard.
On another note, Monika Czinano came in needing 11 points to reach 2,000 for her career. History and credibility were on the line before the year wrapped up.
From the start, the Hawkeyes quickly realized that they had their work cut out for them. Their usual explosive offense was largely neutralized by Purdue’s pressured-packed defense, which included a full-court press where two defenders would be on Caitlin Clark as she brought the ball up. Also, Czinano was double-teamed in the paint when she was given the ball. As a result, they struggled for points and at times turned the ball over.
Defensively they did an effective job at keeping Purdue’s offense searching for baskets as well.
Things seemed rather stagnant, but then at the 5:30 minute mark, McKenna Warnock hit a three to put Iowa up 8-7. Then at 5:07, Clark found Kate Martin inside for a layup to make it 10-7 and get the crowd at Carver on their feet.
After a full timeout, the tag team of Warnock and Martin did their thing by denying Jeanae Terry a fast break layup. Warnock forced her to miss the shot and then off a Terry rebound Martin stole the ball and got back in transition. They were on top of their game on defense but they continued to struggle offensively as they were missing shots they would normally make and couldn’t get on a run.
At 3:16, Madison Layden hit a three for Purdue to tie the game at 10. Then at 2:24, Martin answered back with a three of her own to put the Hawkeyes up 13-10.
After a layup by Purdue’s Jayla Smith, at the 1:43 minute mark, Clark hit a jumper to give her six points and put the Hawkeyes up 15-12.
As the quarter wound down, it was none other than Clark who led the way in securing control of the game for Iowa as she hit another jumper on the right shoulder to put them up 17-12 with just under a minute to go.
Things were starting to pick up for the Hawkeyes as they were now playing their game after an early assessment of the situation. With five seconds left, Clark did it again with a 3-pointer to give her 11 points and end the quarter with the Hawkeyes leading 20-12.
As the second quarter began, the Hawkeyes looked fresh and energized. Through the first three minutes, that momentum never waned as they executed on all fronts. Their defense was still dynamite, they were dominating on the defensive glass, and their offense was fired up.
At the 8:16 minute mark, Czinano scored her first basket of the game to put the Hawkeyes up 27-16 and put her 9 points away from 2,000.
At the 7:26 minute mark, Hannah Stuelke scored her first points of the game off the rebound from a missed Clark three to put the Hawkeyes up 29-16 and finish a 9-3 run.
The Hawkeyes were right where they wanted to be and the Carver faithful were right there with them.
A notable presence during this time was none other than Stuelke. She hustled her way to the basket at every chance to grab the board at both ends of the floor and when her time came, she would score. At 6:48, she snagged a rebound off a missed three by Martin to lay it up and put the Hawkeyes up 31-18. She ended up scoring four points in the first half and grabbed five rebounds.
Both sides then cooled down briefly on points but that quickly changed as Iowa went on yet another run courtesy of McKenna Warnock.
At 3:46, she hit her second three of the game to give her six points and put the Hawkeyes up 34-20. At 3:04, she did it again with another from beyond the arc to give her nine points and increase the lead to 37-20.
At 2:03, she scored her third consecutive point on a layup off a missed three by Gabbie Marshall to make it 39-20.
With energy, enthusiasm and excitement, the Hawkeyes were heading into halftime exactly where they wanted to be after a slow start. At 1:14, Czinano laid it up off the glass for her second basket and increased the lead to 41-20.
With 47 seconds left in the quarter, Clark hit a three to make it 44-20, finishing a 7-0 run and giving her 17 points.
At the half the Hawkeyes led 44-23. They outrebounded Purdue 30-17 with 23 of those coming on defense.
As the third quarter began, the Hawkeyes were on their way to a convincing and significant victory. It was merely a matter of whether they could hold onto that momentum, continuing to be impeccable on the boards, and if Czinano would reach that 2,000-point milestone, as she needed only six points.
At the 9:16 mark, Warnock continued her superb play with yet another three to give her 14 points and put the Hawkeyes up 47-25. She answered again at the 8:34 mark to give her 17 points and increase the lead to 50-27.
It was now official that it was her game and her teammates felt it as they jogged back down to the other end of the court in celebration of her.
The Boilermakers were down by plenty but they weren’t out for the count just yet. Their own tag team of Lasha Petree and Cassidy Hardin was doing whatever it could to keep them in some level of contention with some excellent shooting. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes only managed to secure a single free throw by Clark.
As a result, Purdue was able to claw their way back into the game and after being down by as many as 22, they cut the Hawkeye lead to 51-38 at the 5:28 mark after an open three by Caitlyn Harper in culmination of a remarkable 11-1 run.
After a much-needed full timeout, the Hawkeyes needed to recover or else they would be in jeopardy of giving up a sizable lead. They were starting to show signs of fatigue whereas Purdue was rejuvenated.
At 3:47, the Hawkeyes’ fatigue was even more evident as Molly Davis turned the ball over after trying to hand it to Clark and then Abbey Ellis took it all the way to the hole to make it a 52-40 game.
With just under three minutes left in the third, the air seemed to go out of the Hawkeyes and they were now in a state of chaos. They were turning the ball over during every other possession and at the 2:17 mark, Terry laid it up off the glass off a rebound to cut the Iowa lead to 11 at 53-42.
Purdue was knocking on the door of making it a single-digit game for the first time since the end of the first quarter. But at 2:07, it was none other than Clark coming to the rescue with a three to bring it back to a 14-point Hawkeye lead at 56-42 and getting the crowd at Carver on their feet at a much-needed time.
With just under a minute to play, it was Stuelke who came off the bench and provided a much-appreciated boost as she continued to play well on the offensive glass with a basket off another missed three attempt by Marshall to make it 58-44 and give her six points.
Stuelke then was fouled as she took it to the hole during the last few seconds and missed both free throws, thereby continuing the Hawkeyes’ increasing free throw troubles. Nevertheless, they still held onto the lead at 58-44.
At the start of the fourth, the Hawkeyes needed to muscle their way to victory even though they were up by double digits. They had squandered a 20-plus-point lead and fatigue was very much a factor in addition to some moments of lackluster ball handling and poor shooting. But as recent memory shows, they have demonstrated themselves to be a team of resilience.
The first basket scored was by Czinano and increased the lead to 16 at 60-44.
At 9:25, Czinano was at the free throw line and converted on both to make it 62-44. The Hawkeyes started to switch gears in terms of their offensive approach by going inside more than they did prior, considering that Purdue’s defense was overpowering inside for a good chunk of the game.
At the 7:54 mark, Marshall got on the board for the first time in the game as she was wide open under the basket to give the Hawkeyes that coveted 20-point lead at 64-44.
At the 6:15 mark, Czinano knocked down both free throws, the first officially putting her in that coveted 2,000-point club. As she and her teammates jogged back down the floor, the crowd stood in thunderous applause.
Czinano became the fifth woman in Iowa history to capture such a feat, a group that includes Clark, who notched her 2,000th point on Dec. 21 against Dartmouth, and current WNBA player Megan Gustafson.
The celebration was quickly derailed at the 5:58 mark after a foul was called on Clark after a 3-point shot by Purdue to make it a 66-52 game. The crowd that had reacted to history with strong cheers reacted with thunderous boos as Clark looked stunned and angered at the call.
The intensity on the floor started to grow as it was becoming a much more aggressive game even as the Hawkeyes were still on their way to a clear victory. Purdue scratched and clawed their way back in as best they could and did most of their dirty work by forcing the Hawkeyes to the foul line, where they had been struggling.
The remaining minutes turned out to be a grind as Purdue continued to make it clear that they were still in it even if they weren’t going to win it. They drove to the basket to draw the foul, converted some big shots, dove for loose balls, and ran the full-court press.
When all was said and done, the Hawkeyes came away with a critical victory, 83-68, for their sixth consecutive win. A major factor in their victory was rebounding in which they were 48-37 in total rebounds.
Clark had 24 points, six rebounds and five assists. Warnock had 19 points, nine rebounds, and one assist. Czinano had 12 points, five rebounds, and two assists. Stuelke had 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Afterwards, Czinano explained her mindset while at the free throw line with history on the line.
“After I made it I had to make the next one too,” she said. “I had to stay straight-faced. I have one more and then I can celebrate a little bit after that. It was really cool.”
Warnock expressed a sense of excitement in anticipation of some upcoming Big Ten play considering the current landscape.
“We know it is not the beginning of the Big Ten season but it really feels like it is,” she said. “I think it was just a really good start to the season. Every team is so amazing in the Big Ten and I think anyone can win on any given night, especially when you go on the road, but I’m excited to see what we can do on the road. It will be a really good opportunity for us to go out there to Illinois, they’re a great team, so I’m excited.”
A special guest in attendance was Iowa recruit Ava Jones, who is still recovering from a tragic car accident in July that claimed the life of her father and left her severely injured.
Iowa (11-3, 3-0 Big Ten) will hit the road to take on Illinois (12-2, 2-1 Big Ten) on Sunday at 2 p.m. CST.