Caitlin Clark's game-winning three lifts No. 6 Iowa women's basketball over No. 2 Indiana
IOWA CITY — The search for separation extended deep into the afternoon, with both sides of this epic women's basketball showdown refusing to surrender anything.
The external elements surrounding Sunday's Iowa-Indiana showdown put tons of pressure on the actual basketball action to deliver four quarters of drama. ESPN's "College GameDay," senior day — all of it ultimately took a backseat to two powerhouses hoping for one more magical moment before the postseason commences.
The Hawkeyes swiped this one in most dramatic fashion.
Caitlin Clark darted off a Monika Czinano screen, snagged the inbounds pass and fired off her most memorable Iowa shot to date, splashing home a game-winning trey as time expired. Clark took off on a celebratory sprint as a raucous Carver-Hawkeye Arena soaked up this magical 86-85 Iowa win.
More:Leistikow: Caitlin Clark's walk-off winner for Iowa basketball is the stuff of legends
On a day designed for Iowa women's basketball to strut its stuff from every angle, Clark showed why she's the one in the spotlight shouldering the lofty expectations. It took every one of her game-high 34 points to carry the Hawkeyes (23-6, 15-3 Big Ten Conference) home. It took the fearless confidence she wields to drill the game-winner after missing eight of her first 11 downtown attempts.
"I know this team is going to turn to me in those situations,” Clark said, “and it's not anything I'm going to shy away from. If you want to be one of the best players on one of the best teams, those are the situations you have to rise to."
Had Clark's heave clanked off, it would've been a cruel ending to game that flowed smoothly all the way through — given what happened on the previous possession.
Locked in an 83-83 game that seemed destined for overtime, Czinano was whistled for a foul on Mackenzie Holmes that seemed to arrive just as Holmes traveled. Pleas from Bluder and the Hawkeyes fell on deaf ears. Holmes calmly swished two free throws to give Indiana (26-2, 16-2) an 85-83 advantage as a feisty crowd channeled all its anger at a questionable whistle.
However, a key clock adjustment before the Holmes free throws gave Iowa 1.5 seconds to work with instead of the original 0.8 that showed. Clark made sure the officials checked the monitor to regain every tick possible, crucial with the ability to advance the ball to halfcourt with a timeout.
"In those moments, you can't really worry about what you can't control," said Czinano, referencing Indiana's final offensive sequence. "So just really making sure that we're running our X's and O's to the best of our ability, doing our best out there."
More:What the college basketball world is saying about Caitlin Clark's game-winner over Indiana
Iowa's best carried the Hawkeyes to leads of nine in the third quarter and six twice in the fourth, seemingly ready to finally shake free and let the sold-out arena carry the Hawkeyes to the finish line. Nineteen points from Kate Martin paired nicely with typical Clark and Czinano production. But Indiana, which didn't grab its first second-half lead until 6:22 remained, hardly looked like a squad with nothing to play for after clinching the regular-season title Tuesday.
Three ties in the final 2 1/2 minutes set the stage for a seesawing final 30 seconds. Then Clark swooped in to save the day.
“You have this kind of crowd and that kind of ending,” said a hoarse Bluder said, still amazed at what had unfolded. ”It was such a clean game. It was such a well-played game by both teams.
“And I cant stress to you enough, Indiana is a No. 1 seed. They hadn’t lost since December. They’re a No. 1 seed by far in the NCAA Tournament. So it just shows our women what we can do. That’s what I’m most happy about. It just proved what we can do together.”
Amid plenty of festivities that put Bluder's program front and center once more this season, the Hawkeyes more than anything needed to shake off Tuesday's blowout loss at Maryland that zapped Iowa's regular-season title chances. Sunday's opportunity provided the perfect chance, even with a daunting Hoosiers squad and their near-perfect record on the other side.
Bluder stressed to her players the Maryland loss was an anomaly, and not the start of something sour with the season's most vital point up ahead. Iowa, though, had to prove it on the court. The Hawkeyes are "writing their own story" as Bluder has mentioned several times this season — and this was a momentum-gaining chance Iowa didn't want to pass up.
Now the Hawkeyes are back stabilized, set to face the Purdue-Wisconsin winner at 5:30 p.m. Friday as the Big Ten Tournament's second seed. More sizable matchups like this one are inevitably coming. The Hawkeyes know every opportunity to test their mettle carries weight this time of year.
On this day, Iowa — and Clark — weren't wilting.
"I'm lucky enough," Clark said, "that my coach and my teammates have the confidence in me to be in those situations more than anything."
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.