Iowa women's basketball: IUPUI stuns No. 15 Hawkeyes with furious fourth-quarter rally
IOWA CITY — Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m. doesn't seem like an ideal time for a get-right game, but the Iowa women's basketball team hardly cares about particulars right now. The No. 15 Hawkeyes simply need opponents on the floor without any more disruptions.
Turns out, Tuesday afternoon is the perfect time for disaster on the court.
Playing for just the fifth time this month and the second time in roughly two weeks, Iowa looked like its usual self for three quarters — then self-destructed in a forgettable fourth. IUPUI took advantage and escaped Carver-Hawkeye Arena with a 74-73 win, erasing an 18-point second-half deficit in the process. Suddenly, the Hawkeyes (6-3) exit non-conference play with more questions than answers.
"Obviously not the way you want to go into the holidays," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "We have a 15-point lead going into the fourth quarter … and just got really, really outplayed."
After a tough 69-61 win over Central Florida last Saturday, re-calibrating the offense sat atop the Iowa agenda entering what was supposed to be a drama-free showdown. And the Hawkeyes did that for most of the day. A cruise-control fourth quarter seemed all but certain.
Then came the downfall, cemented with two free throws in the waning moments.
Despite owning a 27-11 edge in the fourth, the Jaguars (5-2) didn't grab their first (and only) lead until Rachel McLimore sank two free throws with three seconds remaining. The charity-stripe trip came after Caitlin Clark fouled McLimore on Iowa's final defensive stand with a 73-72 lead. The Jaguars standout drained both, fought through Iowa's last-ditch effort — a Monika Czinano mid-range that clanked short — and Jaguar jubilation ensued everywhere.
Upsets like this don't happen to Iowa very often.
"Our defense wasn't good enough," Clark said. "I don't think we took advantage of what we needed to early in the game. And then too many turnovers, a lot from myself. Credit to them. They made some shots. But we're a whole lot better than that."
Lead scoring came from the expected individuals, with Clark (19 points on 6-for-16 shooting) and Czinano (23 points on 11-for-18 shooting) spearheading Iowa's early offensive charge. After constructing a cushion that hovered around double figures for much of the first half, the Hawkeyes hit the gas hard in the third. An 8-1 run with buckets from four different Hawkeyes handed Iowa a 54-36 advantage five minutes into the second half.
Things looked encouraging then.
But Iowa had just four field goals in the fourth, none of which came from Clark. Six of the Hawkeyes' 14 turnovers arrived in the final 10 minutes. That opened the door for McLimore and Macee Williams — who delivered 19 points apiece — to ignite the fourth-quarter rally. Iowa State transfer Madison Wise added 12 clutch points as well.
"It was just a little bit of everything," said Clark, who finished 1-for-7 from deep as part of a 4-for-22 downtown team effort. "Film never lies, and that'll show us areas where we really froze up on. We weren't playing to win almost. We had a 15-point lead, and it almost seemed like we were trying not to lose in a sense."
It's a fitting ending to a non-conference stretch that was anything but smooth. The Hawkeyes' COVID-19 pause that axed three November games did its best to disrupt Iowa's last month, culminating with Tuesday's debacle. Iowa has managed a 2-3 record since the pause with plenty of seesawing play that's required regrouping.
Now, Iowa gets another week-plus off before plunging back into Big Ten play with three games in the first week. The Hawkeyes travel to Penn State on Dec. 30 before hosting Illinois on Jan. 2 and Northwestern Jan. 6. It's a manageable conference opening before several ranked foes appear on the backend.
But how quickly can the Hawkeyes regroup after Tuesday's stunner?
That's a question Iowa didn't expect to need to answer — but now does.
"Obviously we've got some work to do," Bluder said, "and we've got to figure it out."
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 email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.