Iowa women's basketball: Hawkeyes suffer another ranked stumble against No. 17 Indiana

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — As they have been before, ingredients were there for Iowa to finally clear the hurdle it's stumbled into several times this season. Facing ranked foes isn't supposed to be comforting. Neither is a slew of close misses against them. 

With No. 17 Indiana on the Sunday docket, the Hawkeyes ran through their usual checklist to stay within reach into the fourth quarter. There were spurts of offensive success, which built an early lead. There were stretches of grittiness once Indiana took back control. There was belief in the Iowa huddle as it trekked into the fourth quarter, again within striking distance. 

There was also another familiar reading on the scoreboard. 

Despite pulling even twice early in the fourth, Iowa offered little resistance against a Hoosiers squad used to thriving in winning time. Indiana finished the job for an 85-72 win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, sticking Iowa (10-6, 6-6 Big Ten Conference) with its third home loss in the last month. Ranked teams have dissected the Hawkeyes' home-court advantage that once seemed impenetrable.

"It seems like there is something different all the time. It's like a hole in a boat: You put your finger in and plug one hole. And when you fix that, another one pops up somewhere else," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "We've got to continue to get to fundamental basketball and try to get better defensively. We've got to start getting committed to that." 

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark, left, dribbles as Indiana guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary (4) and Indiana guard Ali Patberg (14) defend on Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

The loss, Iowa's sixth in their last seven Quadrant 1 opportunities, continues to see the Hawkeyes flirt with toppling someone from the conference's upper echelon  — only to miss out on a productive finish. Sunday's edition saw Indiana use a 12-2 fourth-quarter surge to grab control with 5 ½ minutes remaining. 

All throughout, Iowa had no defensive answer down low against Indiana's multi-pronged attack. The Hoosiers (11-4, 9-4) piled up 50 paint points and continually dominated with Mackenzie Holmes (25 points), Ali Patberg (23 points) and Grace Berger (15 points), who combined for 26 of Indiana's 33 field goals. That trio sprang into action once Iowa pulled even. 

"It's frustrating," freshman Caitlin Clark said. "Any time we lose, I'm frustrated. I don't like losing. But there's a lot we can take away. It was tied (early) in the fourth quarter.

"We're right there. I think that's more frustrating than the losing part. Because these games (against the Big Ten's best) are so winnable for us. It's just defense, again, in the fourth quarter that killed us. It's just got to get better."  

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark, right, drives to the basket as Indiana forward Aleksa Gulbe (10) and Indiana guard Ali Patberg (14) defend  Sunday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Clark led Iowa with 30 points on 12-for-27 shooting, but mustered just one assist and six turnovers. Monika Czinano poured in 16 points alongside McKenna Warnock's double-double (10 points, 15 rebounds), yet it hardly mattered with Indiana muscling to the bucket for a layup or free throws on almost every fourth-quarter possession. 

The closing sputter erased a third-quarter Iowa rally, as the Hawkeyes whittled a 57-47 deficit down to two behind a strong defensive stretch. The opportunity was there for Iowa to end this challenge differently than the last several.

There was no change, though, once the final horn sounded. Iowa trudged back to the locker room with another decent — but not strong enough — effort against the league's best. 

"When you're winning, you've got a little bit more bounce in your step, a little more energy, a little more joy. When you're losing, you have to manufacture those things for yourself," Bluder said. "You can't expect freshmen to do that, as well as veteran players who have been through things.

"... It's a situation where we're so close. We're two points (down) going into the fourth quarter on our home court, and then we just really get taken out of it. In some ways, we're so close — and it's not showing up in the victory column."        

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.