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Caitlin Clark's triple-double helps Hawkeyes overcome sluggish start to rout Western Illinois

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa women's basketball coach Lisa Bluder sensed that Tuesday's game against Western Illinois would provide an opportunity for some of her reserve players to get valuable minutes.

Hawkeye star freshman Caitlin Clark had an inkling she could record her first triple-double.

The reality matched the vision in both instances.

The Hawkeyes broke free after an early lull to trounce the Leathernecks 92-65 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Clark, who was so frustrated that her shots weren't falling that she pounded the court after finally making a layup, finished just 3-for-15 from the field, something that may never happen to her again. And still, she wound up with 13 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists.

Three Iowa backup players had their career-best scoring performances, an encouraging sign for a team that will get eight days off and then resume Big Ten Conference play at 2 p.m. Dec. 31 against Rutgers.

"I just want them to go home feeling good about themselves," Bluder said of her players. "And I think they should."

Iowa center Sharon Goodman (40) makes a basket as Western Illinois guard Grace Gilmore (21) defends during a NCAA non-conference women's basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Sharon Goodman, Logan Cook and Megan Meyer certainly will. The bench trio provided an outstanding lift, and a combined 37 points.

Goodman had career-highs in points (12) and rebounds (9). Six of those rebounds were on the offensive end. She did all that in just 14 minutes of playing time.

"I think that shows the real strength to our team, to have players come off the bench and score points like that and especially rebounds," Goodman said. "Because that's something we've really been just working on in practice."

Cook made all five of her shots to finish with 12 points. She added nine rebounds as well.

"I think it's going to be important going forward in the Big Ten. You never know when someone's going to be in foul trouble," said Cook, a junior who played a career-best 21 minutes. "So you just always need to stay ready and have confidence when you go in."

Meyer had a career-high 13 points and added four assists. She had 10 points total in Iowa's first five games.

Nine Hawkeyes scored.

By the fourth quarter, the storyline had shifted from who would win the game to whether Clark could get the final assist she needed to add "triple-double" to her already-impressive resume. 

Bluder was aware that Clark was close to the milestone and thought about telling her so, only to change her mind.

Clark is a point guard. She was already aware.

"I knew I was close, but I didn't know how close," Clark said. "I think, especially because I wasn't shooting the ball very well (Tuesday), just in that fourth quarter, get my other teammates some shots, get their confidence gong, get them some easy buckets."

Clark's final assist came when she noticed Cook on the far side of the lane and rifled a pass through traffic that resulted in a layup. She became the first Hawkeye player to achieve a triple-double since Sam Logic did so against Baylor in 2015.

"I think she knew she could get it this game," Bluder said of Clark. "She has high goals and expectations for herself. But champions do. And she fulfilled it."

Bluder was upset by her team’s lack of focus early, substituting liberally trying to get a lineup that could get some separation from the Leathernecks (1-7). She used 10 players in the opening five minutes. She later called her team "a little rusty" after going 10 days between games. Iowa was scheduled to play at Ohio State on Saturday, but that game was postponed by a COVID-19 outbreak within the Buckeyes' program.

In the second quarter, the Hawkeyes (5-1) asserted themselves on the defensive end and took a 41-29 lead into intermission despite poor shooting (14 of 38, 37%). Iowa forced 14 Western Illinois turnovers and generated 15 points off of them in the first half.

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) takes the ball up court as Western Illinois guard Carla Flores defends during a NCAA non-conference women's basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Iowa dominated the second half.

Clark, who is averaging 27 points, said she'll use her Christmas break to work on her shot some more, as if apologizing for her performance in a game that saw her enter the Hawkeye record books, just six games into her career.

"I'll be ready for Rutgers," she said.

No one was questioning that.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.