Iowa sophomore guard Caitlin Clark sat in a circle with the rest of her team. It was just after the first quarter of the game — she kept taking glances at the scoreboard hanging above her in Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall between swigs of water.
The scoreboard displayed a 25-11 lead for Iowa, but Clark had scored just 2 points through the first 10 minutes. The rest of her team made up the difference with 23 points.
Iowa’s dominant first quarter was good enough to put itself at ease. Indiana’s a defensive-minded team, not built to dig itself out of a hole like this.
How did the Hoosiers get here?
Well, Clark is a nightmare for defenses, the kind of player that’s circled on whiteboards throughout an opponent’s practice facility months before its matchup with Iowa takes place. Tell any Indiana fan that the Hoosiers would hold her to just 2 first-quarter points and you’d probably get looks of utter shock and joy in response.
That was actually the problem. Indiana’s defense tightened its grip around Clark too much, allowing her teammates to slip, then pour, through the unguarded gaps. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, they only seemed to notice and respond once they were firmly in the aforementioned hole.
Indiana’s defenders were tenacious when guarding Clark. Graduate student guard Ali Patberg frustrated Clark into a poor shot in the paint early in the first quarter and graduate student guard Nicole Cardaño-Hillary kept her contained on the perimeter.
While it stopped Clark from scoring in bunches, she dished the ball to dominant senior center Monika Czinano and found other capable Hawkeye shooters on the perimeter.
Czinano created issues for Indiana throughout the game, particularly for junior forward Mackenzie Holmes. This was Holmes’ second game back from an undisclosed knee injury, which sidelined her for 11 games.
She wasn’t completely comfortable Thursday against Northwestern, and the same was true on Saturday against Iowa. Czinano is a tough, bruising kind of forward. Combine her with Clark, and Iowa becomes one of the toughest matchups in the Big Ten. Indiana was out-rebounded 41-27.
After all of that, Indiana took a 17-point deficit into the locker room at halftime. Many, myself included, had written this game off. It was gonna be a loss, and it looked like it would be an embarrassing one.
It looked like that was the right assumption, too, once Indiana kept allowing Iowa to score in the third quarter and could only muster 20 points of its own for a score of 71-49 through 30 minutes.
Then, the fourth quarter happened.
You can give multiple answers to what Indiana’s identity is. Defense, a strong resume or some occasional big shot ability. But above all that is its fight. Indiana backs down to no team, and no challenge is too great
That 22-point deficit? Pfft, didn’t mean a thing to the Hoosiers.
Indiana, led by seniors Aleksa Gulbe at forward and Grace Berger at guard, scored 42 points in the fourth quarter. Read that sentence again, 42 points. That’s a program record — an astronomical number.
The Hoosiers lost, yes, but turned a 71-49 fourth quarter into a 5-point, 96-91 loss. That’s pure grit and fight.
It’ll come in handy once March begins, and especially so in the rematch with Iowa on Monday in Iowa City, Iowa.
The Hoosiers will be fine. Keep watching and you’ll see.