Caitlin Clark propels Iowa women's basketball to win over Michigan, share of Big Ten regular-season title
IOWA CITY — Whether it was those who scooped up tickets early or the ones who cemented the sold-out status late, everyone inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena hoped to experience something special Sunday.
The ceiling was a Big Ten title celebration, guaranteed to happen if Iowa could emerge with its biggest win of the season. Next on the list was Caitlin Clark's Michigan encore, bound to leave jaws dropped if it resembled anything like her first Wolverine outing. The ultimate consolation prize was simply being in attendance for one of the most raucous women's basketball environments in recent memory.
Iowa fans nailed the trifecta.
Clark fired away from every corner of a jam-packed arena, cranking up the noise with every incredible shot that swished home. Big pushes to end the second and third quarters flung this game Iowa's way, and the No. 22 Hawkeyes closed it out for a 104-80 victory over No. 5 Michigan.
Iowa (20-7, 14-4) split the Big Ten regular-season title with Ohio State (22-5, 14-4) and will be the No. 2 seed at the Big Ten Tournament next week in Indianapolis, where the Hawkeyes will open with the Northwestern-Minnesota winner at 5:30 p.m. (CT) Friday.
"I don't think we could've scripted today any better, honestly," Clark said.
For a person who thrives on emotion, this was Clark's dream scenario all the way through. Whether it was scoring, passing, celebrating — and often noise instigating — the standout sophomore didn't run from this massive opportunity. She and her Hawkeyes charged straight into Michigan with no fear. The final product was a drama-free fourth quarter that accentuated all the reasons why the Dowling Catholic alum stayed at home to make Iowa great.
Her game-clinching surge arrived late in the third quarter just as Michigan was trying to climb back in. With the Hawkeyes' lead down to eight, Clark splashed home four treys in five minutes to eliminate any good Wolverine vibes. Iowa spent the final 10 minutes draining almost everything to turn this one lopsided.
"Once we got stops and pushed in transition, that's when we were the most effective," Clark said. "I think that's been the story all year long for us and will continue to be the story. That's our best offense, and that's Iowa basketball."
Clark finished with 38 points on a staggering 8-for-11 from deep, also tacking on six rebounds and 11 assists. Pair this performance with her incredible fourth quarter at the Crisler Center, and Clark has 63 points over her last 50 minutes against Michigan.
The Hawkeyes also picked up double-digit contributions from Monika Czinano (19 points on 9-for-11 shooting) and Gabbie Marshall, who emphatically delivered against the Wolverines after missing the first Michigan matchup. Marshall scored 14 points and drained three treys, part of Iowa's pivotal 16-for-29 showing from deep.
"I've been here three years and have never seen so many people in that place," Marshall said. "There are no words to explain how that feels. The energy the crowd gives you is crazy."
After a first quarter spent adjusting to the scene and fending off Michigan's dominant inside presence, the Hawkeyes finally got the first jarring Clark stretch they needed. It took the sophomore superstar only about 3 1/2 minutes to change the entire first-half vibe as she flipped on the crowd noise with one impressive heave after another.
It commenced with 3:40 remaining in the second quarter — Iowa in a 34-34 deadlock. Clark's two free throws kicked off eight straight Hawkeyes points, and with the lead returned, she began firing away. One logo three, bang. Another fastbreak trey from way out, bang. Both threes re-ignited the hungry sold-out crowd, yearning to explode.
Clark finished the quarter with another layup and a nifty assist to Kylie Feuerbach, who drained a corner trey right before the horn to cement the game-changing run. The final damage was a 19-5 Iowa run to end the second quarter, with Clark scoring 12 of those.
When asked postgame if Clark is the best player in the country, her head coach didn't hesitate.
"No doubt that she is," Lisa Bluder said. "There are a lot of great players around America, no doubt. And I'm sure their coaches feel just as strongly about them as I do about Caitlin.
"But Caitlin is in a situation where she has the ball in her hands all the time. And when you have the ball in your hands all the time, you can make an impact on the game or you can mess it up. There's a lot of responsibility with that. She has a direct effect on the game when she's out there. I think she's made more impact on our team as an individual than other people we're talking about for the national player of the year."
Clark's final order of business was exiting to a standing ovation as she demanded more noise. Celebratory photos, speeches and net slicing ensued shortly after.
Another day of something special for Iowa women's basketball.
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.