#21 Iowa 87, Rutgers 78: Trap Avoided

By BraydonRoberts5 on February 24, 2022 at 10:20 pm
Caitlin Clark scored 16 points and dished 2 assists in the final 6 minutes to lead Iowa over Rutgers
IowaWBB/Twitter
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Tonight’s game against Rutgers was the very definition of a trap game.

The Iowa women’s basketball team entered tonight’s game coming off two consecutive victories over Top-10 Indiana. Those wins put the Hawks right back into the thick of the Big Ten regular season title race. If the Hawkeyes won out, they would finish no worse than co-conference champions. That is something that even the recent Elite Eight team led by Megan Gustafson wasn't able to accomplish.

The biggest challenge between Iowa and that honor is #6 Michigan on Sunday. The Wolverines currently sit atop the Big Ten standings, and they also beat Iowa earlier in the season in a game that they led by 20+ points, before Iowa made a fierce fourth quarter comeback.

Sunday’s game should be huge for a number of reasons. The biggest of course is the conference championship implications. The Hawks will also be out for revenge against Michigan. Had that game earlier this year been a few minutes longer, Iowa might well have won. Had McKenna Warnock or Gabbie Marshall been available for that game, Iowa might well have won.

The crowd for Sunday’s game should also be massive. Coach Bluder said earlier this week that 12,000 tickets were already sold. Very few tickets remain on Iowa’s website. This will likely be the largest crowd many of Iowa’s players have ever played in front of.

But Sunday’s game would only be special if Iowa managed to beat Rutgers tonight. At 2-13 in the Big Ten, the Scarlet Knights certainly didn’t seem like they would pose much of an issue on paper. But Rutgers’ two wins came in their last three games, and they play a slow, physical, and defensive style of basketball that has given Iowa problems this year. If Iowa got caught looking ahead to Michigan and didn’t take Rutgers seriously… well, that’s how a trap game happens.

The start of the game was a mixed bag. Defensively, Iowa was forcing Rutgers into mostly taking long jumpers, but the Scarlet Knights managed to hit a few of them. Offensively, Iowa was either throwing the ball away on ill-advised passes or missing the shots it did get. Rutgers used those advantages to jump out to an 8-5 lead halfway through the quarter. In the latter half of the quarter, though, Iowa’s shots finally started falling and the Hawks went on a 9-0 run. Rutgers finally got a basket, but Tomi Taiwo hit a three at the buzzer to put Iowa up 17-10 after the first quarter.

Iowa’s momentum continued to the early second quarter, and the Hawks jumped out to an 11-point lead at 21-10. But just as Iowa looked in full control, it started to get sloppy on offense again, and Rutgers’ shots started to drop. The Scarlet Knights again made a run and closed to within 23-19. But just like the first quarter, Iowa responded with a big run of its own. The Hawkeyes took a 15-point lead on two different occasions before a Rutgers three at the buzzer cut Iowa’s halftime lead to 39-27.

Like the first two quarters, Rutgers got the better of the play early in the third, and quickly cut Iowa’s lead down to seven points. Unlike the first two quarters, though, Iowa never got a big run in the quarter, mainly because the defense kept giving up baskets. Iowa’s lead fluctuated between 7 and 11 points for most of the rest of the quarter and the lead was 62-54 headed to the fourth quarter.

In the early fourth quarter, Rutgers continued its good offensive play, and suddenly Iowa’s lead was down to just three at 66-63 with approximately 6 minutes to play. Then Caitlin Clark decided there was no way in hell she was going to let Iowa lose this game. Here’s how that went:

  • Clark hit a step-back three at the end of the shot clock (69-63 Iowa)
  • Clark drew an and-1 (but missed the free throw) (71-63 Iowa)
  • Clark layup (73-65 Iowa)
  • Clark hit a runner (75-69 Iowa)
  • Clark hit another three (78-71 Iowa)
  • Clark setup Czinano who got fouled and went 1/2 from the line (79-73 Iowa)
  • Clark assist on a Czinano bucket (81-74 Iowa)
  • Clark circus assist to Warnock as she was being doubled at the end of the shot clock (83-78 Iowa)
  • Clark rebound to finally get a stop.
  • Clark two free throws (85-78 Iowa)
  • Clark steal
  • Clark two free throws (87-78 Iowa).

87-78 is how the game mercifully ended. Clark had 16 points and two assists in the final six minutes of the game. For the game as a whole, she had 32 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists, and 5 steals. What can you even say at this point? Sure, she turned it over too much, but the way she completely and utterly dominated the final six minutes when the game was on the line is nothing short of incredible.

Monika Czinano had 23 points on 10/11 shooting and 6 rebounds. She dominated when she got the ball, but Rutgers did well to limit her shots. McKenna Warnock was the final Hawkeye in double-figures with 19 points, including five made three-pointers. Her return from injury has had a huge impact on the team. A box score for the game is here.

Thoughts

This game was UGLY, but I’m not particularly surprised. That’s what happens in trap games. Early on Iowa was throwing the ball away with reckless abandon. For most of the second half, Iowa couldn’t get the one or two stops it needed to close things out.

Part of the defensive struggle was Iowa’s inability to stop ball penetration or secure rebounds. Another part was Rutgers just hitting a bunch of jumpers it normally wouldn’t. Iowa was in the danger zone in the fourth quarter, but Clark stepped up when Iowa needed her most.

This win also guaranteed Iowa a Top-4 seed at the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis next weekend and -- more importantly -- one of the coveted double-byes in the tournament. That should help Iowa in its bid to make another trip to win the conference tournament. But first there's the matter of a regular season conference championship... 

Next Up

As mentioned, Iowa returns to action on Sunday, February 27 at 3 PM CT at home against #6 Michigan. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

The Wolverines are 22-4 on the season, and 13-3 in the Big Ten. With a Big Ten title on the line and the biggest expected crowd in years, it’s safe to say this is the biggest regular season game Iowa has had in quite a while. If you’ve ever thought about going to see Caitlin Clark and Iowa live, this is a fantastic time.

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