By JOHN BOHNENKAMP
Caitlin Clark said it, and everyone heard it.
“It’s fun getting stops,” the Iowa All-American guard said.
Lisa Bluder knew that was the soundbite for posterity.
“We got that on recording,” the Hawkeyes’ coach said, smiling. “‘It’s fun to play defense.’”
“It’s Opposite Day,” Clark responded, laughing.
Welcome to the bizarro Hawkeye world, where left was right, down was up, and Iowa played the defense that, Clark hopes, is a blueprint for being back among the nation’s best teams.
The No. 16 Hawkeyes defeated No. 10 Iowa State 70-57 on Wednesday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena by not feeling the need to outrun and outgun the Cyclones, but rather grind them on both ends of the court and wear them out.
It was less than a week after the Hawkeyes played a superspeedway game with North Carolina State and lost 94-81. It was after that game in which Bluder called the Hawkeyes out for their lack of defensive attention.
But here they were six days after that game, surrounding Iowa State on defense and playing a patient offensive game that wore out the Cyclones and the shot clock.
“The most frustrating part of it was we knew we were really capable of playing great defense,” Clark said. “That’s why it was frustrating — we knew we could win the game if we got stops on the defensive end. Our offense was completely fine,
“We took it a little more to heart in this game. We bought into the defense. It’s fun getting stops, it’s fun getting 5-second calls, it’s fun forcing them into turnovers. It did hurt us a little bit. Maybe that was the kick in the butt we kind of needed going forward.”
Iowa, which came into the game ranked 242nd in field-goal percentage defense and 294th in scoring defense, held the Cyclones to 36.4 percent shooting for the game, forcing 15 turnovers. The Hawkeyes had seven steals, but also occasionally got a 5-second call, or a shot-clock violation.
“I think this was one of our best defensive efforts,” Bluder said. “I really felt like there was a focus, too. There was an energy and a focus to our defense. We were trying to do different things off certain people, and we created 15 turnovers out there. I thought that was very good.”
“I thought they defended really well,” Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly said. “When we passed up shots, we played right into their defense.”
A high-speed game this was not. The Cyclones led 28-23 at halftime, an unusual score that Fennelly mocked.
“People thought that would be the score at the end of the first quarter,” he said.
Both teams had given a lesson in masonry those first 20 minutes — the Cyclones clunked 13 of their first 14 shots, and the Hawkeyes had a stretch midway through the half in which they missed 10 consecutive shots.
Bluder, who loves her offense, didn’t mind.
“We talked about how great our defense was,” she said. “I thought our defense was really good the first half of this game. We held Iowa State to 28 points. We said hey, the shots are going to fall. We felt like we were getting good shots, and the statistics are going to come out in the end. We just really talked about how we thought we would score better in the second half.”
Whatever show there was going to be between preseason All-Americans Clark and Iowa State’s Ashley Joens had yet to materialize by halftime. Clark missed her first nine shots and was 2-of-14 in the first half. Joens was 2-of-8, under constant harassment from Kate Martin and McKenna Warnock.
Clark, for her part, wasn’t concerned.
“The first half wasn’t my best,” she said. “I don’t think it was really anything they were doing. I felt like I got to good spots, got some good shots. Sometimes that’s just how the game of basketball goes, (the ball) doesn’t go in. But I think it just shows how I’ve matured over the last two years. In the past, that would completely take me out of the game. I knew in the third quarter the shots have to go down. Just trust the work you put in.”
Clark took four shots in the third quarter, all 3-pointers. Three went in, and with each one she was imploring the crowd of 13,000-plus to get to full song.
When Addison O’Grady scored at the buzzer to end the third quarter, 10 minutes in which the Hawkeyes outscored the Cyclones 27-8, Clark slapped the midcourt logo with both hands several times.
She was just as animated two years ago in a comeback win against the Cyclones, but her waves went to all of the cardboard cutouts in the arena empty because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“One (of the cutouts) was my dog,” Clark said.
Clark likes taking the Carver-Hawkeye crowd on wild rides with her area-code 3-pointers, but it’s better for the Hawkeyes when her teammates join her. She had 45 points against N.C. State, but only one other Hawkeye scored in double figures.
Clark finished this game with 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Monika Czinano had 18 points to go with 10 rebounds. Kate Martin had 13 points.
Clark nearly replicated her triple-double game of 22-10-10 against Wisconsin on Sunday.
“To have 10 assists (against Wisconsin), eight assists, that means your teammates are making buckets. And that’s huge for us,” Clark said. “When we have multiple players in double figures, we’re just really hard to guard.”
The fourth quarter was a lesson in how to devour seconds. Martin appeared to beat the shot clock with a banked 3-pointer that was later wiped out on replay, then hit another right before the shot-clock buzzer moments later. Gabbie Marshall snapped a 3-pointer with one second left on the shot clock to put Iowa up 60-44 with 6:25 to play.
“They made a lot of baskets at the end of the shot clock,” Fennelly said.
“We’re not usually patient on offense,” Bluder said. “I wouldn’t call us that. We really felt like we needed to work for good shots. We wanted to work the offense a little bit longer, because the longer you work, the more tired they’re going to get.”
The Hawkeyes started the season in the top five in the national rankings, then fell out of the top 10 after last week. They had not been at their best, or even consistent, to open the season, and Bluder admitted after that loss to N.C. State that she didn’t understand why.
Now the Hawkeyes have created their new blueprint, a new narrative.
“I think we sent a message to teams across the country on what we can do on the defensive end, and when we’re really executing on offense, we’re going to be a really, really hard team to beat,” Clark said.
Photo: Iowa guards Kate Martin (20), Caitlin Clark (left) and Gabbie Marshall (right) celebrate after forcing a turnover in the second half of Wednesday’s game against Iowa State. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)