Iowa's Caitlin Clark gives ESPN audience entertaining show in victory vs. Maryland

Dargan Southard
Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY — Whether it was the additional cameras above the basket, the top-tier broadcast team on the call or the other elements indicating ESPN was in town, it’s clear a show was expected Thursday night inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Caitlin Clark isn’t one to disappoint.

Iowa’s electric guard turned this highly anticipated top-10 showdown into a runaway laugher, igniting another impressive crowd with every deep launch and bullet-pass assist. Clark and the No. 6 Hawkeyes used all that energy and intensity to roll by No. 9 Maryland, 96-82, in front of 10,671.

"We know we have to be sharp every single night," said Clark, who delivered a game-high 42 points while missing just six shots to go with eight assists and seven rebounds. "I feel like the University of Iowa has had a little rivalry with Maryland the past few years. Even when I was in high school growing up, it was always a huge game.

"I hadn't ever beaten Maryland in my career. So this one feels a little better for me."

After picking up their third ranked win in the last month, the Hawkeyes (18-4, 10-1 Big Ten Conference) remained tied in the loss column with Indiana atop the league. Those two still have a pair of games left with each other to sort things out.

But now, back to Thursday.

Deep heaves, celebratory shrugs and a jaw-dropping stat line — all elements of the Clark starter pack were present Thursday. Her scoring barrage included plenty of early emphatic action that put Iowa up 11 after a quarter, then came several stabilizing buckets as Maryland made a second-half push.

The Terrapins (18-5, 9-3) cut Iowa's 20-point lead down to 10 once and 11 three times in the third quarter before Clark squashed Maryland’s momentum with a deep trey in front of the Iowa bench. The 3-pointer handed the Hawkeyes a 71-57 lead with 2:07 remaining in the third. Clark brought out one of her most demonstrative shrugs as she trotted back on defense.

"What us players talked about at halftime was they're going to make a run. They're the No. 8 team in the country. You can't expect them not to. They were going to battle and fight," Clark said. "I didn't think we had the best start to the third quarter, but we definitely weathered that.

"And at the end of the game, I tried to attack the rim as much as I could because they were in so much foul trouble. I thought we did a good job of that. We never got frazzled when they went on a run. We expected it to come. We broke their press. We got good shots in the quarter court. When you're able to weather the storm against a really good team, that just shows the maturity of the group that we have."

If that trey wasn’t Clark’s iconic Thursday moment, the deep one she splashed home through contact from the Mediacom logo was. The four-point play extended Iowa’s lead to 13 early in the second quarter and officially put Maryland in chase mode the rest of the way.

When Clark wasn’t scoring, she was firing darts into Monika Czinano to set up another massive performance. Yes, there were errant passes throughout, particularly in the second half, as Clark piled up a season-high eight turnovers. But more often than not, her interior passes resulted in easy Czinano layups.

The first-team all-Big Ten center finished with 28 points on 14-for-18 shooting. At one point late in the first half, Clark and Czinano combined for a 40-35 lead over Maryland.

"Anytime we're running the court, coach (Jan Jensen) always wants us to be faster and is never satisfied with how fast we're running down the court," Czinano said. "We know that is a big part of our offense — scoring in transition. That's always been preached the second I stepped on campus."

When Iowa needed assistance elsewhere, Hannah Stuelke could be found torching the Maryland defense en route to 13 points on 5-for-5 from the field. Often it was Clark hitting Stuelke in transition for uncontested buckets. Six rebounds from McKenna Warnock in her return from a rib-cage injury also aided the cause.

While a Maryland push was expected given the Terrapins’ talent, the Hawkeyes made sure to counter anything substantial. Holding Maryland to 2-for-18 from 3-point range prevented any serious rallying threat.

With the victory wrapped up, Iowa coach Lisa Bluder opened her postgame press conference with an adamant pitch for Clark being the national player of the year. A question to Clark regarding the race produced a diplomatic answer that emphasized team success over individual accolades. Expect this discussion to ramp up significantly in the weeks ahead.

One thing is clear, though. Clark often shines brightest when the spotlight intensifies.

"I don't know how you can say that Caitlin Clark is not the national player of the year," Bluder said. "She was unbelievable tonight."

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.