The first half of Iowa’s game against #15 Ohio State couldn’t have gone much better. After a slow first few minutes defensively, Iowa played one of its best defensive halves of the season. Offensively, Caitlin Clark got going early, and the Hawkeyes made seven first half three-pointers. All that added up to a 44-32 halftime lead. Iowa was rolling.
Unfortunately, the second half was as bad as the first half was good. For large stretches of the half, Iowa’s defense allowed far too much penetration. When it did force an Ohio State miss, too often the Buckeyes had better positioning down low and pulled down an offensive rebound. Offensively, the team stopped moving the ball well and never got Monika Czinano fully into the game.
Ohio State cut Iowa’s lead down to five heading into the fourth quarter, then kept the game close in the final period, before taking a lead with a minute and a half to go. Iowa tied the game in the last minute, but it was Ohio State that had a chance to win in the game’s final possession. Fortunately, Ohio State’s shot came up short, and the game went to overtime.
Overtime followed a similar pattern. Ohio State scored the period’s first two points, but then Iowa ran off 6 straight thanks to a couple of baskets from Monika Czinano. Czinano then fouled out, however, and Ohio State scored six straight on the other end.
The two teams traded points from there, and Iowa ended up with the ball down two with 18 seconds left. Clark got the ball at the top of the arc in the closing seconds and launched a 25-footer that rimmed out as time expired.
Clark led Iowa with 27 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists. She had 13 of those points in the first quarter, before Ohio State adjusted and played her tough the rest of the game. McKenna Warnock had 14 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists, though like Clark most of her damage was done early. Gabbie Marshall was the only other Hawkeye in double figures with 10 points. The Hawkeyes didn’t make a single three-pointer after halftime. A box score for the game is here.
Ohio State deserves credit for battling back, but ultimately Iowa threw away a very winnable game. Iowa’s struggles started with Ohio State’s press. The press forced Iowa into nine second half turnovers, some of which led to easy transition buckets for Ohio State.
As mentioned, rebounding was a particular problem for Iowa in the second half. Ohio State’s offensive rebounds helped demoralize Iowa’s defensive effort, because several times when Iowa finally forced a missed shot they didn’t get a stop because Ohio State grabbed the rebound.
Then there was the free throw shooting. Iowa went just 13-22 from the free throw line, and several of those misses were crucial. With 3:28 to play and up five, Czinano went to the line with a chance to extend Iowa’s lead to seven and perhaps put the game out of reach. Instead, she missed both free throws. With 54 seconds left, Kate Martin went to the line down one with a chance to give Iowa the lead. Instead, she split her two attempts, and her made free throw was the last point scored in regulation. Those are free throws that Iowa normally hits, and likely would have tilted the game in Iowa’s favor.
Strange Coaching Decisions
The coaching staff also deserves some blame for a series of strange decisions. With 34 seconds left in regulation, Iowa had the ball and an opportunity to shoot at the end of the shot clock for what would essentially be a buzzer-beater. Even with a miss, Ohio State would have had just 1-2 seconds on the other end. Instead, Clark attacked the basket with more than 15 seconds left in the game and missed. Ohio State got the rebound and had a shot of its own for the win. Though I obviously wasn’t privy to Coach Bluder’s end of game instructions, I don’t think she told Clark to hold for the last shot. Clark began to drive with way too much time left.
Another baffling decision came in overtime. Ohio State had the ball with 31 seconds remaining up one after they had called timeout. There was a 6-7 second difference between the shot and game clock. Iowa could have theoretically played out the defensive possession and then called timeout to advance the ball with whatever time remained. That risked leaving little time on the offensive end, however, and the Hawkeyes decided to foul. The only problem was that it took them 12 seconds to commit the foul, even though the ball was just in front of the Iowa defender. The lost time essentially forced Iowa into one final offensive possession instead of extending the game into multiple possessions.
Finally, the entirety of Iowa’s last possession was played at the perimeter. I’m not sure what the final play design was, but Clark briefly posted up her defender, had position, but didn’t receive the ball. Instead, she had to come out to get it and forced a long three-pointer as time expired. Clark has hit that shot before. It’s not a terrible shot for her. But I do wonder why Iowa didn’t try to get something going to the basket. Or if they wanted a three, why Iowa didn’t run Clark off more screeners in an attempt to get her a more open look.
Losing a close game to a good team is expected for a team as young as Iowa’s. It’s just that the way the game was lost will leave Iowa’s coaches and players kicking themselves for the next few days.
Iowa returns to action on Monday, January 18th at 3:30 PM Central at home against Purdue. The game will also be televised on the Big Ten Network.