Caitlin Clark scores 32 points to push No. 24 Iowa women's basketball past Minnesota

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — As much as Lisa Bluder's words sounded like coach speak regarding Iowa not overlooking a foe it recently beat by 50-plus, Minnesota made things way more interesting than expected Wednesday night. 

The Golden Gophers hung around deep into the second half, on a mission to out-perform their record and rough showing in the opener. Even more surprising with another solid Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd pumping noise in behind Caitlin Clark and her Iowa teammates. 

For three quarters, Bluder's warning rang true. But the Hawkeyes weren't going to let disaster strike on this night. An emphatic fourth carried No. 24 Iowa to an 88-78 win over Minnesota, allowing the Hawkeyes (16-6, 10-3 Big Ten Conference) to keep pace with the rest of the league's upper echelon.

A loss to the Golden Gophers (11-14, 4-9) certainly would've dented Iowa's Big Ten standing and NCAA Tournament resume, even if it seemed improbable at tipoff. A one-point game entering the fourth erased any doubt about Minnesota's legitimacy on this evening. 

"It speaks to the depth of this league, but, you know, these are the games you want to play in," Clark said. "I'll always say that I'd much rather play in a close game than a 100-point win. I just think that's more fun. That's what competitors love to do. It was obviously fun going up there and winning by 50 points, yeah, but you're going to get challenged in the Big Ten no matter who it is." 

Who better to turn to than maybe the most popular women's basketball player in the country right now? Clark's 12-point third quarter gave way to a strong fourth, where the Iowa superstar added seven more en route to a 32-point night on 10-for-20 shooting. It wasn't the jaw-dropping treys from Sunday evening, but Clark's all-around ability to close out Wednesday's pesky foe was just as important, if not more. 

A second-half resurgence from Monika Czinano was the other key ingredient. The all-Big Ten center had 12 of her 23 points in the fourth quarter, several of which came on Iowa's 11-0 run to open the final period. After uncharacteristically missing a few mid-range shots from the elbow, Czinano fought through the frustration for a nice finish.   

"In the fourth quarter, especially, we talked about defense," Czinano said. "That's what kind of led to our offensive play. We got more rebounds than we had been getting. We were able to push the ball better.

"We finally all kind of clicked together. Obviously, it needs to happen sooner, but I'm just really happy that it did happen in the fourth quarter."    

Gabbie Marshall also returned for the first time in a week-plus, playing 26 minutes with three points. She missed the last two games after getting injured last Monday against Ohio State. Marshall was back in the starting lineup alongside Tomi Taiwo, who poured in 14 points in this her third straight start. Kate Martin had 10 as well.    

Was this the prettiest performance Iowa could deliver? No. But there is plenty of truth in each Big Ten night offering a chance for disaster. Iowa avoided that, and now it's on to a big one next Monday versus Maryland.   

"Minnesota came in and played much better, but I'm really happy with our fourth quarter," Bluder said. "We were 8-for-12 shooting from the field. We were a perfect 10-for-10 from the line. We dominated the paint."  

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.