IOWA CITY — Caitlin Clark caught the inbounds pass, took two steps, turned and let it fly.
The junior guard’s 3-point shot rattled home and fell through as the buzzer sounded, lifting No. 6 Iowa past No. 2 Indiana 86-85 in Iowa City on Sunday.
In front of a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena on senior day, the Hawkeyes came out firing. After Hoosier graduate guard Grace Berger got scoring started with her patented midrange jumper, it was Clark’s turn to score with her own signature shot, a 3-pointer with the defense closing in.
Clark’s corner triple sparked an early run for the Hawkeyes, who capitalized on turnovers and misses by the Hoosiers while finding open shooters beyond the arc to open up a 13-2 lead just 2 1/2 minutes into the game.
The run forced Indiana head coach Teri Moren to burn an early timeout to get her team reset and refocused. While Indiana was unable to come out of the timeout with a run of its own, it still tightened up on defense and began knocking down shots of its own. As a result, over the final minutes of the first quarter, Indiana managed to cut the lead and take some momentum away from Iowa and the home crowd.
After the game, Moren said she called the timeout to get her team settled into the game and to focus on their strengths — particularly on defense.
As the Hoosiers kept making pushes to cut the first half lead, the Hawkeyes continued responding — seemingly every Berger turnaround jumper was answered by a Clark triple. Going into the halftime break, the pair led their respective teams in scoring, though Berger’s effort helped cut the lead to just a single point.
“We just kept fighting back, and I think that's one of the big things too about this team is we're fighters and we're going to fight to the very, very end,” junior guard Sydney Parrish — who scored 16 of her 18 points in the second half — said. “We came back from what could have been a really big, ugly lead and made it a really fun game.”
Historically this season, Indiana’s halftime adjustments have allowed them to come out and dominate the third quarter to take control and put the game away. However, on Sunday, Indiana was unable to capitalize and actually found themselves on the wrong end of a post-halftime explosion — Iowa started the third quarter on an 11-3 run.
Just as they had done in the first half though, the Hoosiers came back and cut the lead again while slowing down the Hawkeyes hot shooting streak.
As the third quarter wore on, however, the Hoosiers started falling into foul trouble. Junior guard Chloe Moore-McNeil — who was tasked with guarding National Player of the Year candidate Caitlin Clark throughout the contest — picked up her fourth foul immediately after knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers.
As time wound down on both teams’ regular season finale, the opponents traded buckets like prize fighters trading blows as neither was able to gain the upper hand. Although the matchup didn’t mean anything in the standings, both teams were playing with the intensity of an elimination game.
“We love the game — our whole team is super competitive, so it's not like this didn't mean a lot to us,” Parrish said. “I don't know if it's going to change a lot in the seedings, or the rankings or whatever, but we're really competitive and we wanted that game.”
With under a minute left on the clock, the game quickly turned into a free throw contest. All-Big Ten First Team fifth year center Monika Czinano knocked down two at the line to give the Hawkeyes a 2-point lead, but Moore-McNeil hit two of her own to tie the game back up with 34.9 seconds left.
On the next Iowa possession, they worked the ball down to Czinano but Holmes’ defense forced a miss and allowed Indiana to grab the rebound and call a quick timeout.
With just 4.6 seconds left, the Hoosiers found Holmes in the post and she was able to draw a foul on Czinano — who battled with Holmes in the paint throughout the entire game. Holmes sunk both shots from the charity stripe — part of Indiana’s 94% shooting from the free-throw line — to give the Hoosiers the 2-point advantage with 1.5 seconds left.
After an Iowa timeout to advance the ball, senior guard Kate Martin — who was second on her team with 19 points — passed the ball into Clark, who was able to get off an uncontested look. Moore-McNeil tried to defend the final shot, but a Czinano screen knocked her off balance while closing out and she was unable to recover and get a hand in Clark’s face.
As Clark’s 34th point of the game fell through the hoop, Carver-Hawkeye exploded into a frenzy and the Hoosiers were left to walk off the court with a loss for just the second time this season.
“I think would have been different if she would have been able to stay on her feet, I think we would have been able to crowd her with 1.5 seconds,” Moren said. “Of course, (Clark) is an excellent player and she might have still been able to get it off, but I think it would have been guarded. So, it's unfortunate, it's one of those dumb luck things — but it never comes down to one play.”
Despite falling to 26-2 overall and 16-2 in Big Ten games with the loss, Indiana secured its best regular season finish in program history. The team came into the game having already secured an outright conference championship and the No. 1-seed in the conference tournament. Indiana will have a chance to bounce back when they begin play in that tournament, starting at 12:30 p.m. on Friday in Minneapolis against the winner of Nebraska versus Michigan State.
Follow reporters Will Foley (@foles24) and Matt Sebree (@mattsebree) and columnist Matt Press (@MattPress23) for updates throughout the Indiana women’s basketball season.