Caitlin Clark's triple-double powers Iowa women's basketball to Big Ten Tournament title
MINNEAPOLIS — If Lisa Bluder could’ve concocted the perfect Sunday scenario, a performance reserved only for the most pleasant of dreams, it still wouldn’t have been as dominant as what actually unfolded on the Target Center floor.
Iowa’s transition offense flowed beautifully. Defensive intensity never wavered. Shocking scores dotted the scoreboard all afternoon as the Hawkeyes capped their weekend-long party in Minneapolis with a boisterous blowout of Ohio State.
Iowa’s 105-72 win to clinch its second straight Big Ten Tournament title arrived in front of a record 9,505 — the largest single-session attendance in tourney history. The Hawkeyes laughably removed any neutral-site narrative the second they arrived in the arena Friday. Those who watched Iowa claw through its quarterfinal and semifinal wins were rewarded with a drama-free day that accentuated why the Hawkeyes’ dreams are large and lofty this March.
"You're just so thankful," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "Being able to be here in Minneapolis — to have the fans, to break the (attendance) record, to have this fan support here, to assemble this group of women and to see it all coming true in front of your eyes — it really feels good. It really does. I really feel that the best description is we're grateful. We really are."
After Saturday’s seesawing affair that saw Maryland nip at the Hawkeyes’ heels for 40 minutes, Caitlin Clark and company extinguished all Ohio State had with one swift swipe. Clark finished with a resounding triple-double — 30 points, 17 assists, 10 rebounds — igniting the Target Center crowd as she corralled the clinching board late in the fourth.
Following a choppy opening six minutes that might as well have been a different game on a different planet, Iowa smashed the gas with a 16-0 surge that had the arena bumping. Clark had eight of her points on that backbreaking run as she showcased her full arsenal in a matter of moments.
A self-created stepback trey, followed by a hard transition drive, followed by a dime assist over the top to Monika Czinano had Clark roaring with emotion as Ohio State desperately asked for time. Even after the Buckeyes finally ended the scoring drought, Iowa countered back with another 20-4 run that effectively ended all outcome suspense.
"Our fans have been incredible," Clark said. "Our three games here, I don't know if we do it without them. It's really a home-court advantage.
"They're chanting, 'Let's go Hawks' with 45 minutes left in warmups. That's probably pretty intimidating if I'm the other team. A lot of credit goes to them. They're incredible. It's been like that all season long. So we're just really thankful."
The Hawkeyes’ second-quarter lead dipped below 20 for all of 13 seconds. Their second-half cushion rarely fell below 30.
Alongside Clark, Czinano ended her hometown weekend visit with her best Minneapolis showing, pouring in 26 points on 11-for-12 shooting. Kate Martin added 13 points, while McKenna Warnock hauled in 11 rebounds.
Perhaps most impressive, Iowa’s intensity never wavered despite the lopsided ledger. The Hawkeyes huddle bubbled with energy after Ohio State won the third quarter. Iowa’s starting five didn’t leave the floor until deep into the fourth. Clark stayed dishing assists and draining shots with a 30-point cushion.
"Easy? I don't know. It didn't feel that easy," Martin said with a laugh, "but it was really fun to be a part of."
Regardless of how Iowa’s conference tourney journey ended this weekend, the days ahead were always going to be spent regrouping and refocusing to some degree. This veteran group knows this season’s ultimate goal lies in the tournament ahead — and that’s no coachspeak or cliché.
The Hawkeyes sat in this exact position a year ago — celebrating a Big Ten Tournament title after a riveting run through the conference — only to have all excitement evaporate without warning after an NCAA Tournament faceplant.
This year does differ from last in that Iowa appears better positioned for a March Madness breakthrough. The Hawkeyes could slide up and grab the final No. 1 seed when Selection Sunday arrives in a week. At the very least, Iowa has seemingly avoided facing heavy favorite South Carolina until the Final Four.
"I think this does earn us a No. 1 seed," Clark said, "but at the same time, I don't know how much difference there is in the fourth No. 1 seed and the top No. 2 seed. You're technically in the same region. We beat two No. 1 seeds in the past two weeks (in Indiana and Maryland). I don't know how that wouldn't earn you a No. 1 seed, but I'm not the one that makes those decisions.
"All we could do was control the game right in front of us, and that's what coach Bluder talked about every single day. When we first got here, our focus was Purdue. The next day was Maryland. It wasn't about where we were on the seeding line."
Those concerns are coming. For now, though, the Hawkeyes will bask in a weekend they had all to themselves.
Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at email@example.com.