After slow first quarter, No. 6 Iowa women's basketball rolls to season-opening win

Dargan Southard
Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY — A lopsided matchup like Monday’s was likely only going to be noteworthy if something went awry, and Caitlin Clark limping off the floor toward the locker room early in the first half came close to qualifying. Frustration poured from the Iowa women’s basketball star amid a choppy season opener.   

Everyone, though, took a breath — and brought basketball normalcy back to Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Clark eventually returned to the game with no apparent issues, finishing with 20 points to boost No. 6 Iowa past Southern, 87-34, in what was a cruise-control victory after the opening 10 minutes. Coach Lisa Bluder remains unbeaten in season openers at Iowa (1-0).

"Kind of just a freak injury — I don't exactly know what happened — just tweaked my ankle a little bit. But things like that happen," Clark said. "Obviously, it's not ideal, but I was just like, 'Tape it up. I want to get back out there.'

"And I think we responded well once we settled in."

Following an uneven 15-point first quarter — shockingly, the third straight quarter in which Southern held Iowa under 20 dating to last season's matchup — the Hawkeyes firmly grabbed control.

Clark, who also dealt with a bloody lip that caused an early delay, snapped Iowa's 0-for-9 start from deep with back-to-back treys to begin the second quarter. And then the Bluder offense was off, draining five 3-pointers in a six-minute span to hand the Hawkeyes a 25-point advantage as halftime approached.

"We huddled and definitely had to recalibrate (after Clark went to the locker room)," said all-Big Ten center Monika Czinano, who finished with 10 points on just four shots. "I think when anyone goes down with an injury at any point, it kind of shakes the team up a little bit. Especially with how close-knit we are, but I think we did a really great job responding. She was up off the bench pretty quickly. I feel like we didn't play without her for too long. That was nice."

The action from there featured a dabble of everything. The up-for-grabs post rotation behind Czinano began with Addison O'Grady and then Hannah Stuelke, followed by Sharon Goodman's return to the court late in the first half. She and Shateah Wetering both sported large knee braces as they push through the final stages of ACL surgery recovery.

O'Grady drained a second-quarter trey that had the bench bumping. Stuelke got an extended second-half run and finished with 10 points, repeatedly using her versatility to pose a threat outside before tough baskets inside. Reserve guards Molly Davis, Sydney Affolter and Taylor McCabe ran the show late for plenty of valuable adjustment minutes.

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) dealt with some aches and pains during Monday's season opener against Southern University, but the junior star said afterward, "I'm all good."

"It's good to get out and get some different rotations in," Bluder said. "Again, I thought our bench play was really solid tonight, and I'm excited about it because I think we have a little more depth than we've ever had. I think that's going to be a really (big) asset down the line."

The other end was about as strong as Iowa could ask for, even against the inferior foe. The Hawkeyes' 28-5 run in the second quarter featured as much defensive dominance as downtown action and set the precedent for the remaining action. Southern didn't clear 28 points until six minutes to go in the game.

Once Clark's maladies proved non-serious, Monday's matchup checked pretty much all of the boxes for a season opener. All 13 players who appeared scored. Both ends have plenty of strong points to build off, along with a few hiccups to keep teaching points relevant. Iowa returns to action Thursday against Evansville before competition intensifies Sunday at Drake.

"I've dealt with some injuries in my life," Clark said with a smile, "so I'm all good."

Iowa guard Molly Davis high-fives fans after Monday's victory over Southern at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and Email him at or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.