Iowa suffered their first loss of the season in their last game -- a painful 84-83 upset loss to Kansas State in Manhattan, KS. How would they respond to that defeat, especially with Caitlin Clark's health in question after she suffered a sprained ankle on the final game of the K-State game? How would they deal with a tricky Belmont team that's expected to be one of the top teams in the Missouri Valley Conference and gave #6 Louisville a tough game earlier this season? The answers to all of those questions -- how Iowa would respond, how they would deal with Belmont, and Clark's health -- were thankfully positive.
The outlook for Clark looked good before the game when she was draining 3s at a good clip in the pre-game shootaround.
Caitlin Clark is warming up and hitting threes so I think she's good to go for today's game.— John Bohnenkamp (@johnbohnenkamp) November 20, 2022
She followed up that pre-game display with a 33-point effort against the Bruins, going 10/18 from the floor, 3/7 from three-point range, and a crisp 10/11 from the free throw line. After some rough shooting games earlier this season, it was good to see that turn around a bit here. You knew more shots would start falling for her at some point, but it was still a relief to see it clicking.
The Bruins jumped out to an 8-3 lead and actually led for most of the first quarter. A pair of Clark free throws tied the game at 18-all after the first ten minutes. Shooting was the main difference between the teams in the opening quarter -- Belmont was pretty hot (8/16), Iowa was not (5/14). The Hawkeyes were able to keep it close by getting to the free throw line, where they converted 7/8 attempts.
Iowa's shooting didn't really turn around in the second quarter (the Hawkeyes shot just 5/15 overall and 0/5 from deep), but they were still able to open up a lead on Belmont because the Bruins went ice cold. Belmont was 3/19 in the second quarter, including 1/13 (!) from distance. Belmont made a three-pointer 30 seconds into the quarter -- and then made two baskets for the remainder of the quarter. After the game was tied 25-25 with 5:40 to play before halftime, Iowa outscored them 7-0 and entered the break with a 32-25 lead. Hannah Stuelke had a particularly good quarter -- she played almost eight minutes and had 7 points and 3 rebounds on 2/5 shooting (3/4 FT).
Both Iowa and Belmont went on runs in the third quarter. Iowa built up a 12-point lead (45-33) over the first four minutes of the period, before Belmont went on a 11-2 run over the next four minutes to cut Iowa's lead to three points (47-44). Iowa used an 8-2 run to finish the quarter to take a 55-46 lead into the final period. The end result of all that back and forth was that Iowa managed to build their lead by two entering the final quarter. Clark really asserted herself in the third quarter, scoring 13 points on 5/8 shooting and dishing a pair of assists. Iowa's three-point shooting in general finally started to click a bit, as they made 4/7 long-range efforts.
In the fourth quarter, Iowa managed to keep Belmont at arm's length for a while, before finally stretching the lead to double-digits -- and holding it there -- to close things out. After Belmont cut Iowa's lead to four (60-56) with a little over five minutes to play, Iowa went on an 8-1 run over the next three minutes to wrap things up. The fourth quarter was another strong showing for Clark, as she had 11 points on 3/4 shooting (1/2 3FG) and 4/4 FT. She scored or assisted on 7 of Iowa's 8 points in that decisive 8-1 run late in the game.
It was a rough game for Hawkeyes other than Clark, frankly. No other Iowa players finished in double figures in scoring. Monika Czinano had 9 points and 10 rebounds on 4/7 shooting. Iowa's other three starters -- Gabbie Marshall, McKenna Warnock, and Kate Martin -- combined for 17 points on 5/16 shooting, which is pretty rough. Iowa got 14 points off the bench -- 7 apiece from Stuelke and Molly Davis. For the game, Iowa shot just 24/57 (42%) overall and 7/24 (29%) from 3-point range.
That sort of lousy shooting effort would have spelled disaster in Iowa's last two outings (shootouts against Drake and Kansas State), but Iowa avoided a second-straight loss on Sunday because of improved effort on defense. The Hawkeyes did a better job of contesting Belmont shots and kept them off the glass (Belmont had just eight offensive rebounds). In addition to the almost six-minute scoreless period to end the second quarter, Iowa held Belmont to just two made field goals in the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter. With Iowa's own offense out of sorts (thanks in part to Belmont's slow-it-down style), the Hawkeyes had to pick up the slack elsewhere and it was a positive to see them do it on the defensive end today. Hopefully that pays dividends in future games as well.
It's good that Iowa was able to get back on track today because there are some big challenges looming over the next few weeks. Iowa is off until Friday, when they face Oregon State in the Phil Knight Legacy College Basketball Tournament in Portland, OR. They'll play either Duke or #5 UConn in their second game of that tournament on Sunday. And the Thursday after that Iowa is set to play #10 NC State in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge in Iowa City. But Iowa's a team with big dreams for the season and big dreams means big games -- we're eager to see if the Hawkeyes are able to rise to the challenge of those big games.