With 3:42 to play in Wednesday afternoon’s tilt at Assembly Hall, Iowa star freshman Caitlin Clark drained a stepback 3-pointer to get the Hawkeyes within two possessions of Indiana’s lead. It was an expert move, followed by a beautiful shot — the kind of next-level combination that Clark put on display all day in Bloomington.
Then, less than a minute later, she was done.
After getting tangled with IU’s Aleksa Gulbe on the other end, Clark was whistled for her fifth foul. An over-the-back call ended her outing prematurely and gave the No. 10 Hoosiers some breathing room down the stretch in their 89-80 victory in the penultimate game of the regular season.
The win gives Indiana a chance to claim a share of the Big Ten title. To get there, the Hoosiers will need a Maryland loss on Thursday afternoon, followed by a win over Purdue on Saturday. So, not there yet. But Wednesday’s win — IU’s eighth in a row — at least keeps IU within striking distance of the Terps.
The Hoosiers had to be sharp to keep up with Clark and Monika Czinano, two of the Big Ten’s best players. And they were. Mackenzie Holmes, Grace Berger and Ali Patberg each scored 22 points for Indiana, which shot 57% from the field and 74% at the line. Nicole Cardaño-Hillary added 13 points.
“What a great afternoon for us,” IU coach Teri Moren said. “What a great talent Caitlin Clark is going to be in this league. She is difficult to guard. The things that I am pleased with are having four kids in double digits in scoring today. We outrebounded them and took it to the free throw line. But probably the stat and the number that jumps off the page for me is our second-chance points that we had — 21 — from getting those 13 offensive rebounds. A few of those came in timely possessions. Nikki (Nicole Cardaño-Hilary) had a big one, and I thought the last one (Gulbe) got was a difficult rebound to go get, but it also took Caitlin Clark out of the game with her fifth foul. I am really happy for our game.”
Indiana had to recalibrate on the defensive end after Iowa authored a nearly-perfect second period. The Hawkeyes shot 11-for-13 from the field and 3-for-3 from beyond the arc over the final 10 minutes of the opening half, with Clark pouring in 11 points and dishing three assists in that span to help Iowa take a five-point halftime advantage.
After whittling away at Iowa’s lead, IU used a 9-2 run at the end of the third quarter to go ahead 65-59. The Hoosiers never trailed from there, though they had to weather a scoring flurry from Clark, who added nine points over her final seven minutes on the court. After allowing Iowa to shoot 60.7% during the first half, the Hoosiers held the visitors to 43.8% shooting over the final half.
“We always remind them at halftime that it is a 40-minute game,” Moren said. “Even though, we were down in there, we challenged them. I thought Iowa’s energy was better in the first half. They just seemed to want the ball and the game a little bit more. Once we fixed that, I thought we came out in the second half and did some really good things to get the lead, build the lead, and hold onto the lead. I thought (Holmes) was much better in the second half. Czinano really struggled guarding her. I am really happy and pleased that we continue to keep our head down and keep showing up and finding ways to win games.”
Tipoff against Purdue is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday.