NCAAW: Lisa Bluder makes Big Ten history for Iowa Hawkeyes

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Fresh off a dramatic comeback win over their homegrown rival Iowa State on Wednesday, the No. 16 Iowa Hawkeyes were back in action to take on Minnesota.

At the outset, the Hawkeyes came out with reckless abandon as if they were riding high off their win against Iowa State. They moved the ball with excellence, their defense was locked in, and they got off an 8-0 run through the first two minutes.

Towards the halfway point of the first quarter, Minnesota started to make some inroads as they managed to spark a 6-2 run to make it 10-6. That momentum started to swing in the favor of the Gophers as they were able to convert on some critical shots from beyond the arc and in the paint. For the Hawkeyes, it seemed as if they were starting to slow down the pace of the game in contrast to how they started.

However, they quickly began to pick up the pace and were able to make some baskets of their own in transition. At the 3:49 minute mark, the Hawkeyes led 16-11. Caitlin Clark and McKenna Warnock each had five points.

When play resumed, the intensity of the game started to increase on both sides. Both defenses were playing at the same pace and with a very scrappy style. The Hawkeyes were starting to lose their edge as they were starting to become lackluster on the boards, turning the ball over on a few occasions, not making shots they would normally make, and missing easy points at the free throw line.

As a result, the game was close and with 44 seconds left, the Hawkeyes led 22-18.

With 16 seconds left, Monika Czinano hit a crucial layup in the paint and the Hawkeye defense prevented the Gophers from getting a shot off in the remaining seconds. At the end of the first, Iowa led 24-18. Clark and Czinano both had eight points.

As the second quarter got underway, the Hawkeyes were scrapping and clawing their way through a Minnesota team that was going to give them a run for their money. Their offense was neutralized from beyond the arc as they would go on to shoot a meager 25 percent. For the most part, they had to rely on points in the paint, inside jumpers and foul shots to increase their lead.

At 6:58, the dynamic duo of Clark and Czinano worked their magic with a feed from Clark to Czinano inside to give the Hawkeyes their largest lead of the game at 31-22.

After a Gopher basket at the 6:12 mark, Clark was able to temporarily break the Hawkeyes’ hex at the 3-point line with a trademark long-range three that put Iowa up by 10 points at 34-24. The feistiness that they showed at the start of the game started to return for the Hawkeyes as Kate Martin added two more points with a driving layup to make it a 36-24 lead with 5:07 left in the second quarter.

At 4:20, Martin did one better when she converted on a running jumper that hit off the back of the rim with one bounce and right into the basket followed by a free throw to make it 39-26 Hawkeyes.

From there, Iowa was on a roll. Clark followed up with a driving layup all the way from half court to make it 41-26. At 3:15, she spun her way into the lane, missed the basket, but on the put-back made it 43-26.

The Gophers weren’t to be counted out so quickly as they still stayed in contention. They were solid from three, near perfect from the foul line (90 percent), and fared well with the inside jumpers. Most of the points came from freshman guard Mara Braun who had 14 first-half points.

As the quarter started to wind down, the Hawkeyes were in control of the game and clearly the better team, but Minnesota demonstrated itself to be a worthy opponent.

With 20 seconds left, Clark was at the top of the key looking to make something happen. She ended up getting fouled and converted on two free throws to give her 18 points and the Hawkeyes a 49-37 lead going into the locker room.

The third quarter began with the Hawkeyes’ dynamic duo doing what they do best. Clark converted on a reverse layup to start things off followed by a free throw to make it 52-37. Then at 9:11, Czinano hit from the top of the key to make it 54-37.

Then at the 8:15 mark, Clark went up for a shot that was almost under the basket, faded away, and the ball lifted up in the air high enough for McKenna Warnock to follow up with a floating put back to make it 56-37 and put the Hawkeyes right on the brink of a 20-point lead.

Then, at 7:28, the air almost went out of Carver-Hawkeye Arena when Kate Martin, who by this point was putting on a solid performance with seven points, went down to the floor with what ended up being a shin injury after she was stepped on after diving for a loose ball. Surrounded by head coach Lisa Bluder and her staff, she was helped off the court with tears in her eyes and in clear agony. She then received a standing ovation and was able to give a small wave to the crowd as she was taken to the trainer’s room.

Meanwhile, her teammates went back to try to get to that 20-point threshold and at 6:26 it was Czinano who did just that as she converted on a turnaround jumper to make it 58-37.

But the Gophers weren’t going away quietly as they followed up with five straight points to cut the Hawkeye lead to fifteen at 58-43 with 4:45 left to play in the quarter.

In the remaining minutes, the Hawkeyes held firm and were able to generate points as they had done the entire game with inside jumpers and layups. Their defense was scrappy but in the sense that they drew fouls that would bring the Gophers to line for a couple of easy points.

With under two minutes left, their lead had been cut to 64-51 and it had once again become a contested game. Gopher freshman guard Isabelle Gradwell hit a crucial three to make it an 11-point game at 65-54 with 34 seconds left.

Then with 01.1 seconds left, Hawkeyes Freshman Forward Hannah Stuelke hit one of two free throws to finish the quarter at 66-54.

Going into the fourth quarter, the Hawkeyes needed to take smart shots, be smart with the ball, and play aggressive but smart defense. In other words, they had to play smart in order to come away with the victory. After a Gopher free throw, it was none other than Clark who set the tone with a 3-pointer at the 9:15 mark to make it 69-55 and give her 27 points.

At 8:29, Czinano scored her 20th point on a layup in the paint to make it 71-55 Hawkeyes and bring them back in position to make it a lopsided lead.

After a full timeout, it was Czinano who, just as she did early on, put the Hawkeyes up by 20 points with her trademark layup to make it 75-55 with 8:15 left to play.

With just under five minutes left to play, Iowa was well on its way to victory and even though they were up by plenty they didn’t show any ounce of complacency. They were hustling and scrambling at every turn as if they were in the throes of a close game.

When all was said and done, the Hawkeyes came away with an 87-64 win, making Bluder the all-time leader in Big Ten regular season wins with 234.

Clark finished with 32 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists. Czinano had 22 points, five rebounds and four assists. Warnock not only had 12 points, 10 rebounds and four assists but achieved the milestones of 1,000 career points and 600 rebounds.

Afterward, Clark spoke to the team’s philosophy of not being complacent no matter how insurmountable the lead is.

“That is how we always want to approach the game,” she said. “It is not over until the final buzzer sounds no matter who is in the game. We always keep saying ‘stab and twist’ and we never want to let up. We knew that they weren’t going to quit so we had to keep going, keep playing, and we never want to play just not to lose.”

According to Coach Bluder, Martin received an initial x-ray after she was taken out and it revealed a bone bruise. She will have a full x-ray at the university hospital on Sunday.

The Hawkeyes (8-3, 2-0 Big Ten) will be back at home next Sunday to take on Northern Iowa (5-3, 0-0 MVC) at 2 p.m. CST.

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