Hannah Stuelke ignites No. 9 Iowa women's basketball as Hawkeyes cruise by Northwestern

Dargan Southard
Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY — There are times when Hannah Stuelke looks like a typical true freshman, still feeling things out in the early stages of what could be a decorated collegiate journey.

And then there are stretches like Wednesday’s second quarter.

Stuelke single-handedly owned the first half’s closing stretch in giving No. 9 Iowa the necessary boost to separate from Northwestern, as the Hawkeyes ultimately cruised to a 93-64 win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. On a night where superstar Caitlin Clark became the program’s second-leading scorer with only Megan Gustafson to chase down, Stuelke offered a glimpse at what could be the next wave of Iowa basketball dominance.

"I just try to come in and be a spark," Stuelke said. "Today we needed it because we got off to a little slow start. But once we got rolling, we were perfect."

As part of her 17-point, nine-rebound night, Stuelke scored 11 and grabbed five boards (three offensive) in just six second-quarter minutes. Her versatility shined throughout as she worked Northwestern down low, burned them in transition and locked down on the defensive end. Iowa entered the frame up six and exited it up 15.

"It's been tremendous to see Hannah's growth," Clark said. "Especially when she comes into the game and impacts it like that. Her teammates believe in her even more than she believes in herself, and I think that's how a lot of girls are (as freshmen). Your teammates can give you a lot of confidence, and that's just what we try to do for her.

"I think she's really starting to see her potential and see where she can go. She could be a very good player and a very good professional player too. The athleticism is clearly there, and I think we're on the same page a lot with the way she runs the floor."

Stuelke’s widespread impact began with what can only be assumed as a next-level teammate effort from Clark, who missed back-to-back treys only for Stuelke to grab offensive rebounds on both and finish with a well-earned putback. A few short minutes later, Stuelke found Gabbie Marshall from the paint for a wide-open trey that handed Iowa its first double-digit lead of the game.

Stuelke's finest moment, though, arrived when it seemed all fireworks were finished. Quickly subbed in before a Northwestern inbounds, the 6-foot-2 freshman did her best Cooper DeJean impression with an intercepted pass and fastbreak surge the other way. Stuelke eventually laid in an easy layup for a 47-32 halftime advantage.

"I know everyone wanted me to dunk it," Stuelke said, "but I'm saving that for later."

Crafting the perfect scenario to insert and ultimately elevate a true freshman depends on who to ask, but it’s hard to argue there’s a better situation than what Stuelke has right now. Elite players all around her on a team loaded with expectations — but not a setup where Iowa needs a certain amount of freshman production to emerge victorious each night.

That’s how nights like Wednesday organically develop, without any tense environments or scoreboard pressure nearby. Clark (20 points, 14 assists) and Monika Czinano (18 points) delivered their usual production around Stuelke as Iowa did what it should to the Big Ten’s current cellar dweller. The only drama late was if Clark could secure eighth career triple double, which she attempted to deep into the fourth quarter. She came up one elusive rebound short.

Stuelke, though, made the night noteworthy. Expect plenty more performances like that down the road.

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