By John Bohnenkamp
It was 9 o’clock on a Tuesday.
The regular crowd had shuffled in at Carver-Hawkeye Arena for the opening night of college basketball season, some of them … carrying beer.
A new season started with something new — beer and wine sales at Iowa’s arena.
It had been more than 600 days since a crowd had watched the Hawkeyes play a home game. The COVID-19 pandemic had led to almost-empty arenas everywhere last season.
And there were still signs of the pandemic — some fans were wearing masks.
But it was a new beginning.
This was a doubleheader — the No. 9-ranked women’s team first, and then the men.
It was the beginning of a long week — for me, it was five games in six days.
The scenes from the opening week:
6 P.M. TUESDAY. IOWA WOMEN VS. NEW HAMPSHIRE. They got to watch Caitlin Clark on TV last season, but didn’t get to see her play in person.
The crowd that showed up for the Hawkeyes’ season opener got the full Caitlin Clark Experience in the 93-50 win.
The bullet passes that always seemed on target.
There was that first arena-wide gasp when the Iowa sophomore guard let go of a 3-pointer from about 30 feet out.
The snap of the net when those threes go down.
Clark is a constant ball of energy who finally got to perform in front of fans at the college level. She would finish the game with 26 points on 6-of-10 shooting. She had eight rebounds, six assists … and five turnovers.
All part of the Experience.
As fabulous as Clark was last season — she was the Big Ten’s freshman of the year and a consensus All-American — there was still an education to be had.
“I kind of know what the atmosphere is like, the game is like, especially at the Big Ten level,” Clark said. “It was an adjustment for me. A lot more physical than high school, a lot more things you have to know. So yeah, I feel like I know a lot more.”
Iowa led 31-11 at the end of the first quarter, 48-23 at halftime.
The Hawkeyes reached the NCAA tournament regional semifinals last season despite having one of the nation’s worst defenses. But they would hold New Hampshire to 29.7 percent shooting and force 21 turnovers.
It was the beginning of a trend that would last through the week.
When Clark was done with the post-game press conference, she had a question for us.
“Didn’t this place smell like Culver’s tonight?” she said.
It’s all part of the Experience.
9 P.M. TUESDAY. IOWA MEN VS. LONGWOOD. Let’s go to Lincoln, Nebraska first.
Right around the time the Hawkeyes were tipping off their season, Western Illinois’ men’s team was winning at Nebraska, 75-74, on a 3-pointer from Luka Barisic in the final seconds.
The Leathernecks are in their second season under coach Rob Jeter, but it’s the first normal season. Normal spring workouts. Normal summer workouts. Normal fall practices.
It makes a difference.
The Leathernecks got a $95,000 guarantee for the game, and came home with a win over a Big Ten team to start the season.
Iowa didn’t let that happen against Longwood. But coach Fran McCaffery knows the guarantee games aren’t always a guarantee anymore.
“It’s different now,” McCaffery said. “You schedule a game. It’s ‘OK, who do they have back? Who’s graduating, and who’s back?’ Is it a young team? Are they going to be a good team. You schedule accordingly.
“Now, with the (NCAA transfer) portal, everybody reloads. Everybody’s got 16 guys. You go through the scouting report, they’ve got 16 guys. … There’s a lot of teams you’re playing with 24-year-olds. So you don’t know who you’re going to play when you schedule that game.”
McCaffery has his own 24-year-olds, and they would both have big games during the week.
Jordan Bohannon knows the jokes are always out there about how long he’s been at Iowa. He’s in his sixth season, but he had a lot of reasons for coming back. One of those was breaking the Big Ten career 3-point record.
Ohio State’s Jon Diebler had 374 in his career. Bohannon started the season with 364.
He would get 6 3-pointers in this win.
“I was hoping to (break the record) tonight, get it off my chest,” Bohannon said, smiling.
Bohannon flowed well in Iowa’s offense playing the ‘2’ guard after a career of being the Hawkeyes’ point guard.
There is a comfort, it seems, in Bohannon’s game.
“I think,” he said, “there were a lot of people doubting me for wanting to come back.”
6:30 P.M. THURSDAY. IOWA WOMEN VS. SAMFORD. It wasn’t just the Caitlin Clark Experience Samford coach Carley Kuhns wanted her team to face.
It was the tandem of Clark and center Monika Czinano.
And after Czinano scored 20 and Clark 19 on her team in the Hawkeyes’ 91-54 win, Kuhns knew what she had seen.
“They are just incredible players,” Kuhns said. “I’ve told someone, I’m like, I just want a bucket of popcorn and be able to watch them. We came out early to watch them warm up, because they’re such good players.
“For our kids to be able to play against that talent, it’s like, that’s the measuring stick for what’s great. To be able to be on the floor with those kids, and compete against them, is a neat experience.”
Czinano was 8-of-11 from the field, Clark 8-of-14.
The Hawkeyes were in the middle of playing three games in six days to open the season.
“I could play another 40 minutes,” Clark quipped.
Ten Hawkeyes played 10 or more minutes.
“We really spread out our minutes,” coach Lisa Bluder said. “Which we needed.”
7 P.M. FRIDAY. IOWA MEN VS. KANSAS CITY. The other 24-year old on the Hawkeyes showed why he transferred to Iowa, and why McCaffery wanted him.
Filip Rebraca is a 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward from Serbia who transferred from North Dakota in the spring.
But his knowledge of the Summit League came in handy in his second regular-season start for the Hawkeyes.
Rebraca would finish with nine points and 13 rebounds, but he also helped shut down Kansas City’s Josiah Allick in the 89-57 win.
Allick had just four points, mostly because of Rebraca’s defense.
Rebraca’s faced the Roos twice last season, so he knew what to expect.
“I remember these guys from last year,” Rebraca said. “Especially Allick. Of course, I know what he does. But this was a team effort. We tried to limit his touches.”
Iowa’s post presence last season was center Luka Garza, the consensus national player of the year. With Garza off to the NBA, McCaffery knew he needed inside help and Rebraca fit what he was looking for inside.
“He’s a veteran guy who really knows how to play,” McCaffery said. “He competes, he’s physical, but he’s versatile. He fits our style.”
“He’s a tough defender,” forward Keegan Murray said. “He’s going to do a lot of the dirty work for us.”
“I know I’m undersized,” Rebraca said. “I know I’m not the most athletic. But (rebounding) just kind of comes naturally. I know where the ball’s going to go.”
Rebraca has found a spot in Iowa’s starting lineup, which has experience yet seems new. Rebraca is a transfer, Bohannon is in a new spot, point guard Joe Toussaint has gone from backup to starter to backup to starter in his three seasons, Patrick McCaffery is in an expanded role and Murray has gone from the first one off the bench to being talked about as an NBA prospect now that he’s starting.
“It’s a new team, in many respects,” Fran McCaffery said. “It’s a brand new lineup in that sense, but it’s not like those guys are 17, 18 years old, no.”
2 P.M. SUNDAY. IOWA WOMEN AT NORTHERN IOWA. No one really knows what all was said other than those who were doing the talking.
But something said from the Northern Iowa bench fired up Clark in the second half of the Hawkeyes’ 82-61 win.
Clark hit a 3-pointer then, as she was coming down court, said something that drew a technical foul.
After the game, Clark smiled when asked about the technical, her first in her college career.
“I like to talk to myself,” Clark said. “I was just hyping myself up. I was just trying to give us confidence, you know?”
“Maybe just talking out in general?” Bluder said, trying to stay out of the specifics of what happened.
Clark had 25 points and 11 rebounds, the 10th double-double of her career and first of the season, while adding seven assists.
It was the first true road game of Clark’s career, and she seemed to feed off of what was said, no matter where it originated.
Iowa’s defense was stout again, holding the Panthers to 32.3 percent shooting.
“To be able to compete against Iowa, you have to be able to score,” UNI coach Tanya Warren said. “I thought we left a lot of buckets out there.”
Warren said the Panthers “knew we were going to get good shots.”
“Iowa’s going to give you good shots,” Warren said. “You’ve got to be able to knock them down.”
But when her players asked if the Hawkeyes were a better defensive team than in the past, Warren quickly interjected, “Don’t print that I said they were a bad defensive team. I said you’re going to get good shots against them. And we got good shots against them.
“So please print that correctly.”
Top photo: Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon celebrates a 3-pointer in the season-opening win over Longwood. (Brian Ray/hawkeyesports.com)