Iowa's Lisa Bluder is No. 1 on Big Ten wins list, but Kate Martin's injury casts shadow
IOWA CITY — Iowa's Lisa Bluder became the winningest Big Ten Conference women's basketball coach Saturday in an 87-64 victory over Minnesota.
Bluder's 234th Big Ten regular-season victory surpassed former Iowa and Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer for No. 1 on the all-time list.
“(Assistants) Jan (Jensen) and Jenni (Fitzgerald) have been there for every one of them,” Bluder said. “I don’t consider this my honor. It’s our honor."
A mostly uneventful evening at Carver-Hawkeye Arena took a drastic turn midway through the third quarter when Kate Martin clutched her right shin and writhed in pain under the Iowa basket. This game was on cruise control no more.
No. 13 Iowa held off Minnesota for the win in Saturday’s Big Ten home opener, but the Hawkeyes had to finish things without the player often considered the team’s “glue” and emotional captain. It remains to be seen how much time Martin will miss.
"They did an initial X-ray in here, and it looks like a deep bone bruise," Bluder said. "But we're going to get a real X-ray over at the hospital (Sunday or Monday), and we'll be able to figure that out. She got kneed right in the shin."
Owning a 56-37 advantage with 7½ minutes left in the third, Iowa turned on the transition offense with Caitlin Clark hitting a cutting Martin along the baseline. Martin caught the pass and drove hard, only to be met by Minnesota defender Alanna Micheaux. Martin stepped on Micheaux’s foot and collided with her before falling to the court, clearly in immediate pain.
Martin fought back tears as Bluder and the Hawkeyes' medical staff helped her to her feet and into the locker room. She returned a few minutes later to the Iowa bench, sporting crutches and a significant wrap on her right shin.
You don’t replace Martin on the fly, even with a quality bench, and Iowa had to fight through the fallout once action resumed. Minnesota hit the Hawkeyes with a 17-10 run to end the quarter after Martin departed. Iowa took a modest 66-54 lead into the final period before hitting the gas late.
"Kate's our emotional leader. She's our captain. She's who everyone looks to in hard times, so when you have somebody like that go down on your team, you'd like to think other people will step up," Clark, who poured in a game-high 32 points, said. "And we did that. But at the same time, it's still kind of a weird thing when you see Kate go down like that.
"I think the third quarter was a little up and down for us after that. I thought we really reset in the fourth quarter and leaned on one another and got our feet back under us. But I think it's normal to kind of have that emotion, especially when you see somebody who plays such significant minutes and gives such great leadership to our team go down with that kind of freak accident."
Martin, of course, isn’t one to check out mentally. The redshirt senior spent the rest of the night hyping up and encouraging teammates just as she does on the court. Her energy and tenacity never wavered, despite the situation.
This isn’t Martin's first injury rodeo, though. She tore the ACL in her left knee before playing a minute with the Hawkeyes, forcing a medical redshirt during the 2018-19 season. At two different points during her Iowa career, Martin has had to wear a mask during games because of broken noses suffered in practice.
"She's one of the toughest people I know," said Iowa center Monika Czinano, who added 22 points. "So when Kate goes down, you know something is actually wrong. Nobody breaks their nose twice, plays and isn't one of the toughest people ever."
With Martin sidelined, it was mostly Sydney Affolter, Hannah Stuelke and Molly Davis helping fill in down the stretch. The veterans held down the scoring — Clark, Czinano and Warnock scored 30 of Iowa’s first 31 second-half points — but the Hawkeyes will need someone to fill an emotional void on the court more than anything.
If there's any silver lining, Iowa has a week off before hosting Northern Iowa on Dec. 18 and a very winnable game after that against Dartmouth on Dec. 21. In theory, the Hawkeyes could survive without Martin until Iowa returns to Big Ten play on Dec. 29 against Purdue.
"We could go a lot of different ways," Bluder said. "We could go with Molly. We could go with Syd. Those are probably the two (that could replace Martin in the starting lineup."
Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard