The No. 4 Iowa Hawkeyes returned home with a unique sense of urgency to face Belmont University of the Missouri Valley Conference after they suffered their first loss of the season to Kansas State in a stunning upset last Thursday. Certainly not what they expected or what others expected so early in the season for a team with such high hopes. However, they still remain in the top 5 and their superstar Caitlin Clark, who went down in the closing seconds of the Kansas State game with an apparent ankle injury, was back where she belonged on the starting lineup like nothing happened.
Determined to erase the memory of last Thursday, the Hawkeyes marched onto their home field with a vengeance and all signs pointed to a clear and decisive win over the Belmont Bruins (RV, seven points).
From the start, the Hawkeyes didn’t waste time picking up the pace, but it was somewhat to their detriment. They had good transition play and ball movement, but they missed shots they would normally make and sometimes turned the ball around when they really needed to get used to the game. Meanwhile, the Bruins opened solidly as they could also move around the ball effectively, to the point where Hawkeye’s defense faltered.
The Hawkeyes looked rather sluggish and played much slower than they were used to. At the 5:41 mark of the first, the Bruins led 10-7.
When play resumed, the Hawkeyes did everything right, but failed to convert when they should have. They moved the ball around again and found some good open looks both inside and outside but the ball just wouldn’t go in. They also seemed to lack energy and did not see the same spontaneous joy they normally bring.
Nevertheless, they were still in.
At 2:31 in the first, after the Hawkeyes fell as much as five points behind, McKenna Warnock hit a big three to make it a two-color game 14-12. Then, with 2:05 left of the second, she was fouled while making it to the hole and subsequently hit two free throws to keep the game at 14.
At the 1:32 mark of the first, Clark hit a fadeaway jumper to give the Hawkeyes a 16-14 lead.
It looked like the Hawkeyes were starting to regain control of the game, but as the final seconds ticked by in the first, the Bruins went back up to an 18-16 lead. With 3.6 seconds left of the second, Clark was fouled and hit both free throws to keep the game at 18 and that’s how the quarter ended.
After a rather dull first quarter, the Hawkeyes needed a spark as they worked up a sweat. A few seconds into the second quarter, Belmont’s Sydni Harvey hit a three to give the Bruins a 21-18 lead. But at the 9:23 mark of the frame, Clark tied it after converting an epic drive to the basket and followed it up with a free throw.
At 8:51, Monika Czinano hit an outside jumper that gave the Hawkeyes a 23-21 lead.
It was noticeable that the Hawkeyes were playing with a lot more energy, but Belmont remained competitive. Whenever it looked like Iowa was up for a run, the Bruins were on hand to respond quickly.
At 4:36 the Hawkeyes led 27-25.
Iowa was desperate to get something going, and at 3:38 Hannah Stuelke went up to 29-25 with a put back layup.
What became abundantly clear was that Iowa shot poorly from beyond the arc, which is one of his strongest attributes. The Hawkeyes were a meager 1-of-11 (16.7 percent) in the first half compared to their overall field goal percentage of 34.5 percent.
1:24 before the break, Molly Davis gave the Hawkeyes the biggest lead of the game to that point with 31:25 after putting in a dramatic drive to the basket. As the quarter wound down, the Hawkeyes had to rely on basketing attempts other than three-pointers to get them through.
Heading into the locker room, the Hawkeyes were leading 32-25.
The start of the third quarter was a make-it-or-break-it stretch for Iowa. It was obviously the better team, but that needed to be shown more. It wasn’t certain the Hawkeyes would bounce back from a dismal first-half performance from the 3-point line, but this team has provided so many upsets it’s wise to never say never.
The Bruins’ Madison Bartley hit the first basket to start the half, making it 32-27. Shooting problems continued for the Hawkeyes as they failed to complete some open jumpers or layups in the paint. At the 7:46 mark of the third, Gabbie Marshall momentarily broke the spell with a jump shot that put Iowa 35-27.
After a brief basket change, the Hawkeyes and the crowd as a whole received a boost that they largely lacked throughout the game.
At 6:53, Kate Martin hit the second three of the game for Iowa to put it 38-31. After a Bruins bucket, Molly Davis added a three of her own to put the Hawkeyes at 41-33. Then, after a quick feed from McKenna Warnock, Davis hit a crucial layup to give the Hawkeyes their biggest lead of the game, 43-33, with 5:56 remaining in the third.
Iowa was breathed new life and started playing exactly the way it was supposed to have all along. The Hawkeyes played in the transition phase and their defense played with a lot more aggression and intensity. However, they still had to contend with the Bruins not wanting to walk away lying down. The Bruins found themselves in the bonus and getting the ball to the hole, drawing fouls as often as they could.
At 3:42 the Bruins reduced their deficit to six at 45-39 after guard Tuti Jones scored two free throws. Then at 3:15, Clark scored her 14th point with a running jumper to put the Hawkeyes 47-39 ahead. At 3:00, Harvey hit a big three for the Bruins to make it 47-42. At 2:10 guard Destinee Wells hit a shot to make it 47-44.
Towards the end of the third quarter, the Bruins made some significant strides, leaving the Hawkeyes to do whatever they could to stay ahead. Just when it looked like the tide was about to turn, it was none other than Clark who revived at just the right time.
At 1:28, she hit a big three to give her 17 points and give the Hawkeyes a 50-44 lead, which got the crowd on their feet at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Then she did even better at 1:00 in the third, hitting another 3-pointer and giving the Hawkeyes a 53-44 lead. She then ended the run with an open layup after a steal to increase the lead to 55-44.
By the end of the third, the Hawkeyes were leading 55-46.
The fourth quarter started with the Hawkeyes just having to play hard and smart to win the game. Belmont had given them a hard time, and no matter what they tried, they didn’t leave.
At 8:50 Clark came through again with a three that gave the Hawkeyes a 58-49 lead and their 25 points.
But the Bruins would respond when it looked like the game wasn’t in their hands. They hit some crucial baskets and largely held their own at both ends of the floor.
At 7:12, Jones hit a three for the Bruins to reduce it to 58-54 Hawkeyes.
At 4:06, Marshall hit a three to make Iowa 63-56. At 3:30 Clark scored her 27th point from a good screen set by Czinano to make it 65-57. Those two baskets looked like a turning point and gave the Hawkeyes the comfort level to win.
With some tangible encouragement from Clark, the fans brought the energy and at 1:43 Clark scored her 29th point on a drive to the basket to make it 68-57. She had finally put the game out of reach. The Hawkeyes went on to win 73-62.
Clark finished the tournament with 33 points, five assists and two rebounds. Czinano had nine points, eleven rebounds and two assists. In the end, the Hawkeyes shot 42.1 percent from the field, 29.2 percent from the 3-point line, and 78.3 percent from the free throw line.
Afterwards, Clark praised Belmont for keeping the game competitive and stressed the importance of not taking any opponent for granted.
“We certainly didn’t overlook Belmont, we knew they were a great team,” she said. “This is the kind of team that you see in the NCAA tournament, so we wanted to treat it the same way, and I thought we did just that.”
The Hawkeyes (3-1) will travel to Oregon to face Oregon State (4-0) in the Phil Knight Legacy College Basketball Tournament on Friday at 7:30 p.m. CST. If they win, they face off against either Duke or No. 5 UConn on.