THE MONDAY TIPOFF: A Sore Ankle, A Sore Nose, But No Mask For Clark

By JOHN BOHNENKAMP

No, Caitlin Clark said.

No mask for her, thank you.

The Iowa junior guard is five games into the season and she’s already getting in extra work with the medical staff.

There was the sprained left ankle and the bloody lip suffered in the season-opening win over Southern.

Then there was the sprained left ankle, again, at the end of Thursday’s loss at Kansas State.

Then the All-American guard started Sunday’s win over Belmont and a few minutes into the game gets popped in the nose with an inadvertent elbow from one of the Belmont players.

“But that’s fine,” Clark said after the 73-62 win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “It gets you ready for Big Ten basketball. So, that’s all that matters.”

Clark is used to the bruises and the pain — she’s played two seasons in the Big Ten and everyone seems to get away with beating her up.

But she will only go so far with the protection.

Clark talked about the cut on her nose that came with the first-quarter elbow. But when someone suggested she might have to wear a mask like teammate Kate Martin did in the first four games of the season because of a broken nose, Clark jokingly drew a line in the sand.

“No way,” she said, laughing. “I told Kate, don’t bring that anywhere near me.”

Clark worked all weekend to get ready for this game after crumpling to the court in the final play of the 84-83 defeat to Kansas State.

“Obviously the normal swelling, bruising, but not a lot of pain,” Clark said. “I knew I was going to go today, which was good, because I definitely didn’t want to sit out. I feel really good right now.”

It helped that she scored a season-high 33 points on a day when no other Hawkeye scored in double figures.

Clark was quiet for a while in the first half — the blow to the nose forced her to ease back into the game — but she took over in the third quarter when the Hawkeyes were having trouble escaping the Bruins.

She scored 15 consecutive points in a stretch from 5:06 left in the third quarter to 8:49 left in the fourth. She had eight consecutive in a 48-second stretch in the final two minutes of the third quarter — a 3-pointer, a steal that led to another 3-pointer, and then a steal and a layup.

Iowa’s lead was 55-44 at that point, and Carver-Hawkeye was at its loudest point of the day.

“When we got on that roll, and Caitlin hit those threes, the place was so loud,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “It’s so great.”

“She’s just a dynamic player,” Belmont coach Bart Brooks said. “I thought she got a couple of looks in rhythm that got her going. Once she gets feeling really good, the basket gets really big for her. I thought we competed like crazy, but she’s really good.”

Brooks put Tuti Jones, the Ohio Valley Conference’s defensive player of the year last season, on Clark.

“Tuti Jones is one of the best defenders I’ve ever coached,” Brooks said. “And she was working like crazy.

“Some of those shots she made, there’s not much you can do about (them). As a coach, you’re willing to live with certain things from great players.”

In a perfect world, Bluder would like balanced scoring with Clark leading the way. But Belmont’s slow-down pace kept the Hawkeyes in check — it was their lowest-scoring game of the season.

“They really slowed the game down, and that’s why the score was so low,” Bluder said. “We didn’t have as many possessions in this game as we usually have. They were really walking the ball down the court. That’s one way to defend us — we can’t score if the ball isn’t in our hands.”

It was a win the Hawkeyes needed after Thursday’s loss, a challenge they needed for what’s ahead with a schedule coming up that includes a possible matchup with UConn, and home games with North Carolina State and Iowa State.

At this rate, Clark’s biggest challenge will be limiting her time in the training room.

Another season of bruises awaits.

Photo: Iowa’s Caitlin Clark smiles as the Hawkeyes finish Sunday’s win over Belmont. (Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire).

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