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Iowa women's basketball: Hawkeyes find second-half groove to rally past Minnesota

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Of all the foes that have taken their best swing at ending Iowa’s magical home winning streak, the Minnesota squad that trekked into Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday seemed like an unlikely upset candidate.

The Golden Gophers stumbled into Iowa City with an unsightly record and defensive statistics that had the Hawkeyes salivating. For a half and change, though, all that mattered little. With Minnesota swishing from every level — and Iowa unsuccessfully keeping up — the Hawkeyes slogged into the locker room facing a rare double-digit intermission deficit.

An emphatic third quarter spilled into a dominant fourth, as the Hawkeyes tightened up defensively and let Caitlin Clark do her thing. That productive combo paired with scoring reinforcements gave Iowa a 92-79 win to keep the home vibes positive.

A team loaded with firepower but still youthful can always use a hurdle like this. Iowa’s second-half revival showcased the focus needed to sidestep a sloppy start.

"Honestly at halftime, everything was pretty positive," said Clark, who poured in a career-high 37 points on the same day she was named to the Wooden Award Midseason Top-25 list. "We battled back in the second quarter to cut it to 10 at halftime, which was huge for us knowing we were right there.

"We said it wasn't our best half, but the second half was going to be ours."    

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) makes a 3-point basket as Minnesota guard Gadiva Hubbard (34) defends during a NCAA Big Ten Conference women's basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

As much as Iowa’s identity has been solidified on the offensive end, it was defensive improvement that ignited the bounce-back. After the Hawkeyes (8-1, 4-1 Big Ten Conference) watched Minnesota (2-5, 1-4) shoot 53% and drain eight treys in the first half en route to 48 points at intermission, Iowa surrendered just 13 third-quarter points to green-light a comeback. Rotations were smoother. Looks were better contested.

And suddenly, Iowa had an opening to pounce.

"We were just moving a half-second too slow everywhere we were going on defense, and our communication wasn't what it normally is in practice and what we strive to make it (at the start)," said junior Monika Czinano, who added 19 points and nine rebounds. "That was definitely something we talked about at halftime and was a priority. 

"I think it was really good just to regroup at halftime and all of us get on the same page. We were all kind of frazzled. And that way, we were able to go out in the second half and just really attack."

Clark and friends did just that. Back-to-back treys from the unstoppable freshman brought the Hawkeyes even, 55-55, five minutes into the second half. The two swishes completed a climb back from as many as 16 points down in the opening half.

Reignited with nervous energy no longer lingering, Iowa followed with a 13-0 surge for a 68-58 advantage. Three straight triples from McKenna Warnock, Clark and Gabbie Marshall ended a near-flawless quarter.

Iowa ballooned its lead to as many as 16 in the final 10 minutes before Minnesota mustered up one last gasp. All that did was make the final tally a little less lopsided.

The first 20 minutes, though, will be the perfect teaching model for what can happen any night inside the rugged Big Ten — even if the foe comes in hobbling. Iowa and Minnesota may have finished as the lopsided matchup it seemed to be pregame, but the Hawkeyes saw briefly what can happen if things aren’t sharp.

"We've had to battle back a couple times this year, but I think every time you go through an experience, you learn something from it," Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder said. "You develop confidence when it comes out in a positive manner like it did tonight.    

"And honestly, when you have someone like Caitlin Clark on the floor, you're never out of a game."  

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.