Iowa knew its game against Rutgers would be a battle. The Scarlet Knights under former Iowa coach C. Vivian Stringer play a physical, high pressure defense, often implementing a full court press meant to constantly harass opposing guards. To win, Iowa would have to break the press and not fold under pressure.
Early in this game, that didn’t look like it would be a problem. Iowa jumped out to a 28-12 first quarter lead, thanks primarily to great three-point shooting from McKenna Warnock. Warnock went 5-6 from three in the first quarter, and Iowa’s other players also shot well when their number was called. Defensively, Iowa played a 2-3 zone early on and did well, forcing Rutgers into six first quarter turnovers.
The second quarter started much the same. Rutgers turned the ball over a couple times, and Iowa converted, growing its lead to 20.
In basketball, though, big leads can sometimes be deceiving. There are times when a 20-point lead in the 2nd quarter is what it appears—one team is significantly better and on the way to a blowout. Other times, a 20-point lead just signifies that everything that could’ve gone wrong for one team did.
With Rutgers, the latter was true. And for the rest of the second quarter, Iowa got a taste of what Rutgers was feeling. The Scarlet Knights closed the first half on a huge run, narrowing the lead down to two, before barely missing a shot that would’ve tied the game in the last few seconds before halftime.
The big run came primarily due to Rutgers’ defense. Or, rather, due to Iowa’s inability to handle pressure. Rutgers finally started turning Iowa over with their press. When Iowa did get the ball down the court, the possession ended in a turnover as often as a field goal attempt. And Iowa’s shot selection wasn’t great either, often forcing contested shots or long three-pointers to try stopping the run or shifting momentum.
In the second half, the big runs finally ended. The two teams battled back and forth, with Rutgers taking a one-point lead multiple times, before Iowa would answer quickly on the other end. Iowa finally got the advantage at the very end of the quarter, taking a 63-56 lead into the fourth quarter.
The game’s final period was also back and forth. Iowa never trailed in the quarter, but also never grew their lead to more than seven points. The final few minutes were especially close. Rutgers would score to bring the lead down to three, then Iowa would score to push the lead back to five or six. For several minutes it felt like just one stop would put Iowa over the top or would give Rutgers a chance to take momentum and a road win.
But for most of those few minutes, neither team managed to get a stop. Both either made tough shots or drew fouls and converted at the line. Iowa finally got their stop with less than 30 seconds left, and held on from there to win 90-84.
Caitlin Clark led Iowa with 28 points. She also had 6 rebounds and 6 assists, though with 8 turnovers, too. Warnock had 18 points and 9 rebounds, though she attempted only three more shots after her stellar first quarter. Monika Czinano had 17 points, with many of those coming in the second half. Kate Martin and Gabbie Marshall were Iowa’s final two players in double digits, with 12 and 10 respectively.
Iowa shot an incredible 61% from the field in the game, and was also 18-21 from the free throw line. The only reason the game was as close as it was is because Iowa turned the ball over 19 times. A box score for the game is here.
Less Hero Ball
Part of Iowa’s problem in the second quarter, aside from its lackluster press break, was Caitlin Clark. There are times when Clark tries to put too much on her shoulders and carry the team offensively. Sometimes she does that by forcing a drive to the basket, or jacking a long three-pointer with a ton of time on the shot clock. Other times it’s forcing a long or contested pass to a teammate when the chance of success is low.
Clark did all of those things in the second quarter, and not letting the offense work helped Rutgers continue to narrow the lead and build its momentum.
And while Clark didn’t play well in the first half, she turned things around significantly in the second. At halftime, Clark was 3-10 from the field. She ended the game 8-16.
Rather than take contested shots, she waited to take open ones. Or she drove to the basket and drew a foul. Or she let the offense work and created space for Czinano to get going in the paint.
Clark’s second half turnaround helped Iowa regain control of the game, and showed that she can defer to others and let the offense work even when the game is close and pressure is at its greatest.
Get Warnock More Involved
While Iowa’s offense was much better in the second half, it is disturbing that McKenna Warnock only took three shots after the first quarter. Warnock is perhaps Iowa’s most versatile offensive player. When she has time to set and shoot, she might be the best three-point shooter in the conference. She can also take defenders off the dribble and score around the basket.
Today, she was especially hot from three, going 5-6 in the first quarter alone. Going forward, Iowa has to find ways to keep getting her the ball, whether that be for open three-point attempts, or for chances to score closer to the basket.
Martin’s Best Game as a Hawkeye
Kate Martin played her best game at Iowa so far today. Early on, she brought energy to the team on both ends and did a great job boxing out and chasing rebounds. Later, she was Iowa’s second most consistent ball-handler behind Clark, and was also efficient offensively, going 4-4 from the field. Her biggest shot came with 37 seconds remaining, when she buried a three as the shot clock ran out to extend Iowa’s lead from three to six.
Iowa returns to action on Sunday, January 3rd at 1 PM CT on the road at Illinois. The Illini are 2-3 so far this season, and 0-2 in the Big Ten.