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Iowa women's basketball: Caitlin Clark's riveting collegiate debut pushes Hawkeyes past Northern Iowa

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — When she puts her head down, turns a corner and charges toward the basket like a bull finally let loose, there’s not much a foe can do but vent into ambiguity. Caitlin Clark has been making defenders frustratingly mutter for years.

Only now, it’s on the collegiate stage.

“We’ve recruited her for so long,” Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder said, “and we’ve been looking for this day for so long.”

And it became clear early that Clark’s mountain of prep accolades will transition just fine — as if there was any real question.

Scoring barrages came early and often for the Iowa freshman and former top-5 prospect, who torched Northern Iowa from every level in propelling the Hawkeyes to a 96-81 win Wednesday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Her collegiate debut featured a game-high 27 points, three treys, eight rebounds and four assists.

“I set my goals pretty high,” Clark said. “I wouldn’t say I’m shocked, but it’s a good start to the season for sure.”

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) drives to the basket during a NCAA non-conference women's basketball game against Northern Iowa, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

Clark, easily the most-hyped recruit Bluder has signed, didn’t wait around to showcase her offensive prowess. She had four points in the first three minutes, reached double figures by first quarter’s end and threw up 17 by halftime.

A deadly mix of emphatic drives, forced fouls and step-back treys gave UNI a challenge it couldn’t handle.

“Caitlin’s an amazing player, obviously,” sophomore McKenna Warnock said. “Everyone can tell that, but she works really hard in practice as well — which is something you can’t see — and so it’s really inspiring.She brings a lot to the table — obviously she can facilitate for herself, but what she does for other people often goes unnoticed.”

Assistance was in abundance too. The Hawkeyes, which used a 38-point third quarter to grab a sizable cushion, got double-figure scoring from Monika Czinano (19 points), Warnock (14) and Gabbie Marshall (11) as well.

Cedar Falls alum Kam Finley poured in a team-high 22 points for UNI, which erased an early 15-point deficit to grab a 30-29 advantage with six minutes remaining in the second quarter.

But a Clark flurry — seven points from there to end the first half — erased the Panthers’ fleeting momentum. That run spilled into a dominant second half.

“I thought Iowa out-toughed us,” UNI coach Tanya Warren said. “We didn’t defend very well. You give up 96, and you’re not going to win many basketball games. I thought Iowa played extremely well.”

Too much Clark for UNI to contain. 

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.