Tonight’s game against Duke was likely the biggest challenge of Iowa’s non-conference season. Part of that challenge was that Duke is a very good team. The Blue Devils were 6-0 coming into the game, were receiving votes in the AP Poll, and were probably underrated even so.
Another part was that this was the first true road game Iowa has faced in nearly two years. Last season, most games were played with a limited number of fans in attendance. So far this year, Iowa’s only road game at Northern Iowa had plenty of Iowa fans for support. This was the first chance for Caitlin Clark and the rest of Iowa’s freshmen and sophomores to play in a true road environment.
But perhaps the biggest challenge of all was the circumstances. On November 19th, Iowa announced that it had to pause its season due to a Covid outbreak in the program. Since then, games against Drake, USC, and Seton Hall were cancelled. Multiple players and staff had to battle Covid. And the team wasn’t able to practice all together until Tuesday.
In the first quarter, Iowa looked like you might expect after a long pause. The offense had five first quarter turnovers, and missed almost every shot that wasn’t right around the basket. Defensively, most of the team looked a step (or more) slow, and that allowed Duke to get plenty of looks at the basket. Despite all that, Duke led just 20-16 thanks in large part to seven Duke turnovers that limited the Blue Devils’ scoring opportunities.
The second quarter was more of the same. Iowa’s only made shots were right around the basket, and they turned the ball over a lot. Defensively, Duke was scoring on most of their possessions that didn’t end in a turnover. Duke led by as many as 10 in the quarter, and took a 36-28 lead into halftime. Duke’s 12 turnovers were the only things keeping Iowa in the game, but Iowa had 11 of their own. The Hawkeyes didn’t make a single three-pointer in the half.
In the third quarter, the wheels fell off. Iowa started missing those shots around the basket, and just couldn’t score for long stretches. Duke, meanwhile, took better care of the ball and reaped the rewards. Duke’s lead got as high as 18 near the end of the quarter, and the game looked over. Iowa did manage to rally a bit in the final few minutes, but Duke still took a 57-44 lead into the fourth quarter.
Iowa showed some fight in the fourth quarter, but never got the game into single digits. Duke ultimately won 79-64.
Clark led Iowa with 22 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists. Those stats are somewhat deceiving, though, as she went just 9/27 from the field, 1/13 from three, and scored 13 of those points in the fourth quarter once the game was basically over. Monika Czinano was the only Hawkeye who had a good game offensively. She scored 21 points on 9/12 shooting and also grabbed 6 rebounds. Kate Martin was the final Hawkeye in double figures with 12 points and 7 rebounds. A box score for the game is here.
Just Flush It
Duke played well tonight, but it certainly feels like this game would’ve been different if Iowa hadn’t just had two weeks without basketball. The offense other than Czinano looked as bad as it ever has, including missing a ton of wide-open layups.
There isn’t much Iowa can’t take away from this game. The players and coaches just need to make sure that it never happens again.
Clark’s Shot Selection
We all know Caitlin Clark can make shots from anywhere on the court. She can make shots that most other players can’t. But just because she can make shots from anywhere doesn’t mean she should take long distance shots frequently.
Far too often tonight—and throughout the season—Clark has jacked a long three very early in the shot clock. The result more often than not has been a shot that wasn’t particularly close to going in and a rebound for Iowa’s opponent.
Clark should be able to get those shots basically anytime she wants them. Most teams will give them to her because they are low percentage even for a player of her talent. There is no reason to take one of the worst shots your offense can generate early in a shot clock. The end result most of the time isn’t any better than a turnover.
When Clark started attacking the basket in the 4th quarter tonight, great things happened for Iowa’s offense. The same was true against Northern Iowa. More of that, please.
When you’re a bad defensive team, you have to rebound somewhat competently. Getting stops on the initial shot is already hard enough. You just can’t give your opponent multiple bites of the apple.
Tonight, Iowa surrendered 16 offensive rebounds. Those rebounds resulted in 14 second chance points. Those points weren’t the difference between a win and a loss tonight, but they made coming back nearly impossible. In future games, they might well make the difference in a win or a loss if Iowa doesn’t start rebounding better.
Iowa returns to action on Sunday, December 5 at 3 PM CT against Michigan State in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
The Spartans are 6-3 on the season, with losses to #24 Notre Dame, Fordham, and St. Francis. All of their wins have come against mid-major and low-major competition.