By John Bohnenkamp
IOWA CITY — Caitlin Clark is used to go-go-go.
Before she got to Iowa as one of the top-ranked recruits in the program history, Clark had played on teams that thrived on speed.
It’s why the Hawkeyes were such a good fit, why coach Lisa Bluder and her staff worked so hard to get Clark.
Carver-Hawkeye Arena has always been a superspeedway for the Hawkeyes, and Clark showed in Wednesday’s season-opening 96-81 win over Northern Iowa she’s more than comfortable in the fastest lane.
Clark, running Iowa’s offense, led the Hawkeyes with 27 points, and added eight rebounds, four assists and three steals to an impressive beginning.
“Caitlin’s debut was pretty fun for her, and all of us,” Bluder said.
Before every game, Clark tries to visualize her night.
“I’m a big visual person,” she said.
It’s clear that Clark can see the big picture, so even a night of 27 points fits in the mental picture.
“I set my goals pretty high,” Clark said. “I wouldn’t say I’m shocked. But it’s a good start to the season, for sure.”
Bluder said earlier in the week that she thought she had a good team, she just wasn’t sure how long it would take to put together.
Well, maybe all it took was that first game.
Iowa’s 22-point loss to the Panthers last season — it wasn’t even that close — was actually just what the Hawkeyes needed on the way to a run that included them being in the Big Ten title chase until the final week.
“We kind of sat on that one last year,” Bluder said. “Something changed with our team after that.”
But it still smarted with those who returned this season.
“This one,” Bluder said, “feels good to get back.”
This is a young team, led by a freshman who has speed to burn. Clark had Iowa’s first four points to start a 19-4 run to open the game.
She was so excited to get out on the court she started to head out during the pre-game lineup introduction even though her name hadn’t been called.
This is an offense that fits Clark well.
“I think most of the teams I’ve been on, it’s been fast-paced,” she said. “Go, go, go. That’s how we practice — fast, fast, fast.”
“I definitely saw a lot of her quickness and her speed,” said center Monika Czinano.
“She’s what we expected,” Bluder said. “She’s so good with the ball in her hands. We all know what an offensive threat she is. We’ve been hoping for this day for a long time, getting to coach her.”
The key for Clark, though, is harnessing that speed. She had four turnovers on a night when the Hawkeyes had 17.
“I had a few mental lapses, made some mistakes I can clean up,” Clark said.
“Obviously, sometimes, we went a little too fast,” Czinano said.
Bluder promised a deep rotation, and she was right — 10 Hawkeyes played 10 or more minutes.
Iowa led 43-36 at halftime, then a 38-point third quarter finished off the Panthers.
Bluder was anxious to play, but something was missing in an arena that was empty other than the parents and family members who were allowed to attend.
“I was excited to get going, get started on another year, and just play,” she said. “But it wasn’t the same.
“It almost felt like a scrimmage.”
It was real.
So was Clark, with speed that’s as real as it gets.
Photo: Iowa’s Caitlin Clark drives to the basket in the second half of Wednesday’s win over UNI. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)