By John Bohnenkamp
Caitlin Clark has played in just one game for the Iowa women’s basketball team, and she already has a Big Ten honor.
Clark was named co-freshman of the week by the conference, and was named to the league’s honor roll, after her 27-point game in last Wednesday’s season opener against Northern Iowa.
“Boy, first game, and already getting those awards, is impressive,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said on her video conference with the media on Monday.
Clark shared the honor with Maryland’s Angel Reese.
Clark added four assists and three steals against the Panthers. Clark’s 27 points are the most in a Big Ten debut since Maryland junior Eleanna Christinaki had 32 points in a 2017 win over Coppin State.
But Bluder knows things could get more difficult for Clark, beginning with Wednesday’s game at Drake.
“Obviously she is going to have a target on her back now,” Bluder said. “We know that. And so it’s going to get harder for her as we move into the Big Ten, but obviously as she gets identified on scouting reports. You can say, ‘Oh, she should have been identified right away.’ But at the same time, with freshman, you never know. You never know how they’re going to transition into the college game. I understand that maybe she got some good looks because they didn’t identify her enough in the UNI game. But we know that’s not going to happen anymore.”
“I just want to keep performing at a high level,” Clark said.
CLOSE TO HOME: Clark, who grew up in West Des Moines, went to plenty of Drake games, since the school’s campus is just 15 minutes from her home.
“I remember there was always this blimp flying around at halftime dropping things,” Clark said, smiling.
Clark likes the fact that the Hawkeyes will play the other three in-state teams. Iowa plays host to Iowa State next Wednesday.
“I’ve played with a lot of these girls,” Clark said. “I’ve played against them, especially on Drake and Iowa State.
It’s definitely fun, and you want the bragging rights that come along with that.”
Bluder has never shied away from the in-state games.
“You want to win, right? Because you’re competitive,” she said. “I don’t think it affects recruiting as it did. It’s certainly nice for bragging rights. It’s certainly nice for our fans. And we want to win because we want to play well.
“I always do think there’s more energy with the in-state games for the in-state kids. There gets to be more juice when you’re playing them.”
THE SCHEDULE: Iowa will play just four nonconference games this season, and Bluder said there was a reasoning behind who the Hawkeyes are playing.
Iowa will play 20 Big Ten games this season, an expansion of two games. The Hawkeyes could schedule five nonconference games, but all four opponents are teams that are close by — the three in-state programs, and Western Illinois. Iowa is at home for three of those games.
“That was what we were advised to do,” Bluder said. “We were advised to try to play at home, if at all possible, and also play teams that are close in a geographic area.”
Iowa was allowed five nonconference games to schedule because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Bluder said she couldn’t fill that final spot.
“We would like to have added that fifth team, but we just could not find anyone to play us last weekend,” she said.
Bluder said getting a road trip out of the way before Big Ten play begins Saturday at home against Wisconsin is important.
“It’s going to be interesting to take our team on the road,” she said. “Traveling with the new protocols in place is, I’m sure, going to bring up some issues.
“That’s the way it’s going to be for us this year, and we’re going to get through it.”
Photo: Iowa’s Caitlin Clark drives down court during last Wednesday’s game against Northern Iowa. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)