It’s a clutch performance for Clark, Hawkeyes

By John Bohnenkamp

Caitlin Clark was in a starring role for three quarters, then was the director and the producer for the final 10 minutes.

The Iowa freshman guard put on another performance in the 103-97 win at Drake on Wednesday night — 30 points, 13 assists and four steals.

And it was only her second college game.

Welcome to the show.

“There are definitely some things she does that once whatever she does is over, you’re kind of like, ‘Oh, wow, that actually just happened,’” said center Monika Czinano.

Here’s the thing — all of Clark’s points came in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, when the Hawkeyes scored 38 points, Clark took just two shots. But she had five assists, loading up Czinano, who had 13 of her 27 points in the quarter, and others.

Asked about her numbers, Clark said the assists were her favorites.

“Those came in the second half, when we started to get more offense,” she said.

“I think some of the beauty about Caitlin is even though she didn’t score in the fourth quarter, she was dishing out assists, she was keeping the team glued together, she was really motivating us,” Czinano said. “And I think that’s all you want from a teammate, and I think that speaks to her maturity, especially as a freshman.”

Clark, who had 26 points in Iowa’s season-opening win over UNI, made 12-of-19 shots in this game, keeping the Hawkeyes close to the Bulldogs to make that final run.

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder raved about Clark in the post-game press conference, but she knows that for the Hawkeyes to be successful this season, they have to have a wider cast of characters.

Clark knows that, too.

“We never said that,” Clark said when asked if there was a stated goal in the second half to make this a complete effort. “But I definitely knew, in the back of my head, that we needed to get more people involved, or we’re not going to win this game.”

Bluder ran down the list of who else contributed — Czinano and her 85 percent shooting, McKenna Warnock with 15 fourth-quarter points to give her 20 for the game, the two steals by Gabbie Marshall that fueled Iowa’s comeback.

“We just had so many good pieces to the puzzle tonight,” Bluder said.

It has to be that way every night, she emphasized.

“Caitlin is a special player,” Bluder said. “But we do need other people involved in the game. Because that makes her that much more dangerous.

“I don’t want to get to the ‘Michael Jordan effect’ where everybody sits around and watches her, and they’re not being involved in the offense. I don’t want to have that. In the first half, we were standing too much.”

Then Bluder conceded another part of the reality.

“But boy, some of those offensive plays she made, though, were pretty special,” Bluder said.

“She’s just an absolute machine,” Czinano said. “Every time she shoots, I’m really, really confident it’s going in the basket. That’s something that, I feel like, it’s not rare for a freshman, but to have that kind of trust is unreal.

“Yeah, I’m super proud of her. She’s doing amazing.”

The game plan included using Czinano’s size advantage, but the Hawkeyes had a hard time getting her the ball in the first half.

“We kind of rushed that a little bit, and it wasn’t there, and they kind of knew that’s what we were trying to do,” Clark said. “But in the second half, we kind of just waited patiently, Monika got her position, and we were able to get the ball to her.

“Honestly, it was just fun. That’s fun basketball. What you saw in the second half, especially in the fourth quarter, that’s fun basketball.”

Bluder said earlier this week that Clark was going to be a bigger target for opponents now, and with Big Ten play starting Saturday with a home game against Wisconsin, Clark knows what’s coming.

“I’m just two games in,” she said. “I haven’t played a Big Ten team yet. That will probably be more physical.”

Clark grew up near the Drake campus, in West Des Moines, and often attended games there. The Hawkeyes were given two tickets per player for this game, but somehow Clark was able to get enough tickets from her teammates to get 13 friends and family members into the Knapp Center.

“Shoutout to my teammates,” Clark said. “They came in clutch.”

Photo: Iowa’s Caitlin Clark (right) and Zion Sanders celebrate after the 103-97 win over Drake on Tuesday night. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)

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