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Cy-Hawk hoops: Down 17 in fourth quarter, Caitlin Clark and Iowa stun rival Iowa State

Chad Leistikow
Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Seeing her team down by 17 points through three quarters, Iowa women’s basketball associate head coach Jan Jensen pulled her players aside and delivered what they affectionately called one of those “Coach J speeches.”

Believe in yourself, she told them. We believe in you. Empty your gas tank. No regrets.

"You just want to run through a wall after Coach J talks. You just feel empowered," Hawkeyes center Monika Czinano said. "She gave us that speech, and we were super amped up. The overall message was, ‘Let’s go.'"

The Hawkeyes’ 38-game home-court winning streak on the line against rival Iowa State, they took Jensen's words to heart and found another gear in the fourth quarter — and delivered an epic rally to take down the No. 24 Cyclones, 82-80, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Caitlin Clark’s contested, step-back 3-pointer with 22 seconds left was the game-winner as the Hawkeyes held Iowa State to just five points in the final 9 minutes while scoring 24 of their own. The former Dowling Catholic star and top-five national recruit has made a lot of big shots in her life, but she put that one — in just her fourth college game — right near the top.

“We knew it was possible," Clark said. "And we just kept fighting and fighting."

Out of an inbounds play with 3 seconds left, the Cyclones got the ball to their star on the right baseline. But Ashley Joens was unable to get a shot off before the final buzzer sounded.

“It was a back cut, but they guarded it pretty well," Joens said. "It didn’t go the way we wanted it to.”

Iowa players rejoiced. The Cyclones were crushed. They were trying to win in Iowa City for the first time since 2006.

Caitlin Clark (22) celebrates after Ashley Joens' final game-tying attempt ran out of time. The Hawkeyes beat Iowa State, 82-80. Clark had 34 points for Iowa; Joens had 35 for Iowa State.

“We didn't come ready to play in that fourth quarter," Joens said. "We kind of let up, and they recognized it and took advantage of it.”

► Past coverage: Prep phenom Caitlin Clark has big plans at Iowa

With the win, Iowa (4-0) completed the in-state season sweep — having defeated Northern Iowa and Drake to open the season — and won for the fifth straight time against Iowa State.

“A tremendous win for our program. Five in a row over Iowa State. State champions," Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said, adding: “We only led in this game for one minute. But at least we picked the right minute."

It was a stirring rally, to say the least, and Clark was the confident catalyst. 

Her 3-pointer with 8:48 remaining was the first of four in the fourth quarter and kick-started a 17-0 Iowa flurry that turned a 75-58 score into 75-75. 

After Clark's initial 3, McKenna Warnock (14 points) added another to chip the deficit to 11. Iowa had pulled within 11 a few times earlier in the half, but each time Iowa State seemed to have an answer. But the fourth quarter was different. Everything seemed to go Iowa's way; and shots that earlier fell for Iowa State were misfiring. 

The Cyclones (2-3) shot 2-for-10 in the fourth quarter with six turnovers. It was the fourth straight time in this series in which Iowa outscored Iowa State in the final 10 minutes. 

"We scored 73 points in the first three quarters and seven in the fourth," Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. "They defended better, but we had shots I’d take again. We just didn’t make them.”

Clark was just warming up. She buried a 3 with 6:37 to go, then another with 5:17 to play to make it 75-70 — the closest Iowa had been since early in the second quarter.

After a media timeout, Czinano (16 points) scored in the paint to make it 75-72. After a Joens miss on the other end, Kate Martin drained a 3 from the right wing with 3:37 left to make it 75-75.

A 17-0 run in just over five minutes set the stage for a thrilling finish.

Joens, playing like the star that she is, scored Iowa State's final five points — a 3-pointer and two free throws. 

But Clark, equally impressive, scored Iowa's final five — a driving layup with 1:30 to go to give Iowa its first lead, 79-78, then the step-back 3 after the Cyclones went back in front by one. 

“I don’t think we’re ever out of a game when she has the ball in her hands," Bluder said. "Those are NBA 3s. Those are not easy 3s."

On the winning shot, a ball screen from Czinano was called to Clark's right. But she waved it off, choosing instead to step to the left and take her chances with a 25-footer as Iowa State's Madison Wise challenged the shot.

Swish.

It was a shot she had been working on all week. Clark had been frustrated after an 8-for-23 shooting performance in Saturday's win against Wisconsin and had been spending extra time in the gym. 

“Super confident (it would go in)," Clark said. "If you're gonna take it, you better be confident. So I didn't think twice. I just pulled it, and it went in.”

After a slow start by her standards, the freshman finished with 34 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Clark scored 12 points in the third quarter, 14 in the fourth. She's incredible.

► Past coverage: How Ashley Joens used an Iowa barn to get ready for the season

Iowa State's Ashley Joens works in traffic against Caitlin Clark, right, during the first half of Wednesday's Cy-Hawk game.

As is Joens.

The Iowa State junior was sensational in her return to her native Iowa City, scoring 35 points — her fourth straight game with 30-plus — to go with 13 rebounds. It was quite the contrast from Joens' first trip to Carver-Hawkeye in 2018, when she scored two points on 1-for-10 shooting here in a 73-70 loss.

"It's pretty much Ashley. I knew what she was going to do," Clark said of her former AAU teammate. "She’s done the same thing since high school, and she's a super good player. She's just so strong, stronger than pretty much everybody on the court.

"She's a heck of a player and she’s going to be a pro some day."

Lexi Donarski, one of three starting freshmen for the Cyclones, had the best game of her young career with 12 points. Fennelly knows games like these can serve as learning experiences with Big 12 Conference play looming.

"Missing a layup, missing a free throw, missing a defensive assignment … it’s a learning thing for our team. We’re playing a lot of new kids, and they showed it a little bit," Fennelly said. "We’ve got to get more from our seniors in a game like this. … Our seniors need to calm us down."

Iowa, meanwhile, ran its home-court streak to 39 wins. What made this one so impressive was that it came without the benefit of many fans, although most of the Iowa men's team was on hand and enthusiastically cheering for their fellow Hawkeyes.

There's not much time for Iowa players to enjoy this one, with an early Saturday game at Michigan State. But ... you know they're relishing the rivalry win.

“We always want to be state champions," Martin said. "That's one of our main goals every single season.

"And just beating the Cyclones feels amazing. There's honestly no better feeling."