Iowa women's basketball: Hawkeyes' closing surge stifles Purdue's upset bid

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Midway through the final quarter of Monday's afternoon affair, it became clear the only positive Iowa could salvage would have to come on the scoreboard. The chance for an emphatic rebound win had long vanished. The Hawkeyes were simply clawing to avoid disaster.

Should this game ultimately start another lengthy Carver-Hawkeye Arena winning streak, it won't be remembered too fondly. 

Despite the Boilermakers' pedestrian ledger, Iowa couldn't shake Purdue until a closing fourth-quarter surge finally did the trick. Down six with five minutes left, the Hawkeyes came off the deck for a comeback victory, 87-81, to avoid their first three-game losing streak in three years. Following Wednesday's Ohio State loss in which Iowa blew a double-digit second-half lead, avoiding another late sputter was paramount.

"It was very important (to close this game much better)," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "You could kind of feel our players thinking about last time (Wednesday). So it was good we came out and put a stop to that and finished strong."  

Iowa's McKenna Warnock (14) makes a basket as Purdue center Fatou Diagne (45) and Purdue's Tamara Farquhar, right, defend during a NCAA Big Ten Conference women's basketball game, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Squished between two ranked losses and two tough road trips, the Monday matinee was supposed to be the cure for Iowa's various ailments. Instead, those maladies were magnified. The Hawkeyes (9-3, 5-3 Big Ten Conference) coughed up another 15 turnovers, had several erratic offensive stretches and let a team that had no business keeping up seize momentum late in the game.

A Fatou Diagne jumper with exactly five minutes remaining handed Purdue a 75-69 advantage and had the Boilermaker bench pumping. Tamara Farquhar's bucket with 3:40 to go pushed Purdue (5-6, 2-5) back up four. Would the Hawkeyes really melt away in winning time once again?

While still growing, Iowa's offensive leaders wouldn't let it happen. Seven straight points from McKenna Warnock, including a pivotal trey, punctuated a 13-0 Iowa run that suddenly handed the Hawkeyes a nine-point edge. If it wasn't Warnock, it was Monika Czinano and Caitlin Clark — who combined for the other six points on the Hawkeyes' game-swinging surge.  

Defensive intensity buoyed Iowa's finish just the same. Farquhar's basket was Purdue's final points until 18 seconds remained, thanks in large part to a lineup featuring a rarely-used face. Bluder subbed in backup guard Tomi Taiwo with just under six minutes left and kept her in until just 50 seconds remained, allowing the junior to provide a defensive lift off the bench. Bluder had Taiwo in defensively throughout the final minute as well, subbing her out for Clark's offense at the four final dead balls. 

"Tomi has confidence and experience, which is huge," said Clark, who had a team-high 26 points despite 8-for-20 shooting. "Just having her come off the bench and give us those great minutes has been big for us."   

Purdue guard Brooke Moore (0) makes a 3-point basket as Iowa guard Tomi Taiwo (1) defends during a NCAA Big Ten Conference women's basketball game, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Clark and Czinano didn't finish with the prettiest stat lines, needing 31 shots to combine for 45 points to go alongside Warnock's 19. But the Hawkeyes thrived at the free-throw line to offset the sporadic scoring. Iowa's 25-for-31 showing at the charity stripe signaled one off the Hawkeyes' season-high for makes and two off for attempts. That's at least one category where Iowa feels it played its way.

"The Ohio State game, our( 62% free-throw) percentage was not where we wanted it to be," said Warnock, who went 7-for-9 at the line and is a big reason why Iowa makes free throws at a 78% clip. "Every day in practice, we work on those free throws. We know we can make them. So this game, it was really up to us to attack and get to the free-throw line.

"That was just important for us to do this game."       

So was escaping complete despair. Only the final tally and Iowa's riveting closing act kept this from being a dismal Hawkeye day. Iowa can now make its northeast trip to Maryland and Rutgers with rejuvenated confidence in tight affairs.    

"We knew that we needed to come in and just get back started on the right track, "Clark said. "This win I think got us going again." 

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.