Iowa’s Caitlin Clark on Big Ten title game: ‘That’s all I know’
Kate Martin (near triple-double), Gabbie Marshall (seven 3s) and Caitlin Clark (22 points, nine assists) chat after an 89-84 win over Maryland.
Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central
MINNEAPOLIS — When the Iowa women’s basketball team was buried on a Feb. 21 trip to Maryland, there were few positives to be had from an unforgettable night in College Park.
However, there was a key development in that 28-point loss: Iowa’s Gabbie Marshall connecting on 5 of 10 from 3-point range and scoring 15 points – a breakout season in what had been a season of shooting struggles for Cincinnati’s senior guard.
Safe to say, Marshall’s meltdown is a thing of the past. And this time against Maryland, with even higher stakes, she had one of the most impactful matches of her career.
Marshall canned seven 3-pointers — including the shot with 1 minute and 44 seconds remaining — to lift the second-seeded Hawkeyes to an 89-84 victory over third-seeded Maryland. , in the semi-finals of the Big Ten Tournament in front of 9,375 fans at the target center.
“Leaving Gabby alone wasn’t great for them,” smiled Iowa star Caitlin Clark after leading the Hawkeyes to their third straight Big Ten title game. The Hawkeyes will face fourth-seeded Ohio State, which upset Indiana, at 4 p.m. Sunday on ESPN. “Proud of her for taking this shot.”
Marshall finished with a season-high 21 of 7 points for 13 shooting from long range, with each tree looking bigger than the last. Target center broke when she buried a 3 in the right corner to push Iowa’s lead to 76-68 in the fourth quarter. After Maryland rallied to a tie at 79-79, Marshall’s seventh and final 3 was the biggest. Clark missed a 3 on the shot clock, but McKenna Warnock stabbed between two Terrapins to grab the offensive rebound. She returned a pass to Marshall, who measured the open 3 from the right of the key and swept it away.
“She kept believing in herself. She kept working hard in that gym. I couldn’t be more proud of anyone,” said Iowa coach Lisa Bluder. wife is amazing.”
Marshall has always been a 3-point ace for the Hawkeyes. She shot 37.4% as a freshman, 47.1% as a sophomore, and 39.3% as a junior. But in 22 games this season, she was shooting a 16-for-75 (21.3%) clip from 3. Over the past nine games, she’s set up and connected on 24 for 41 attempts from long range ( 58.3%), increasing his season percentage to 34.5%.
She’s now hit 3 in volume (including four in Friday’s win over Purdue), which is a huge development for the 25-6 Hawkeyes. Marshall is also one of Iowa’s top defensemen and played a team-best 39:21. With his help, Iowa tied a tournament record with 15 3-pointers (on a tournament record 40 attempts).
“When you struggle like I did at the start…I knew I had to start shooting to open things up,” Marshall said. “I’m happy to be able to do this for the team right now. I don’t care what I shoot from 3, but I’m happy to help the team this way.
A balanced scorecard shows just how dangerous Iowa can be.
With Maryland stalking Clark with a box-and-one defense at College Park and again on Saturday, it’s imperative that the supporting cast come through for the Hawkeyes.
Even in Iowa’s 96-82 home win over Maryland on Feb. 2, three players — Clark, Monika Czinano and Hannah Stuelke — scored all but 13 points. At College Park in that 96-68 loss, Czinano went 2-for-5, Kate Martin 2-for-7 and Warnock 3-for-14.
Finally, the Hawkeyes got the well-rounded box score they wanted against the Terrapins…and the kind of stat lines you’d like to see the rest of the playoffs so opponents can’t touch Clark.
Warnock matched Marshall’s 21 points (18 in the second half, including 4 for 4 from the line in the final minute) and eight rebounds; Martin was on triple-double watch and finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in his last big game performance; and Czinano scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
The only downside on Saturday? Iowa got no bench points. But Bluder mostly stayed with the top five.
“You can take Monika and me away from me, but when the other three are playing like them and we have other people coming off the bench and contributing, there’s not much you can do,” Clark said. “We scored 89 points, and you’re basically selling two players.
“It’s something we’ve been working on in training since we saw it when we went there, and other teams have tried it as well. But I think our level of confidence in what we we have at the moment is really good. We will welcome any defense that any team wants to bring us.”
Caitlin Clark is now 8-1 in Big Ten tournament games.
The sensational junior guard came to play in this one, as you would expect. She dropped on her first three 3-point attempts, including one from logo distance, and played in front of the raucous crowd as Iowa roared to a 21-9 start.
“You have to credit Caitlin. She’s super motivated, that loss they suffered at home,” said Maryland coach Brenda Frese, who described this one as a game on the road. “When you’re a competitor, I thought she made a statement and set the tone, like all great players do.”
Clark finished with 22 points and nine assists and perhaps most importantly committed just two turnovers. She was tagged for 14 combined turnovers in the previous two meetings against the Terps.
After the game, a reporter from Maryland asked Clark to reach the Big Ten title game for the third straight year. She answered in four words.
“That’s all I know,” she said.
Martin, Marshall, and even Bluder laughed at the mic response.
Clark, unsurprisingly, heads into a Big Ten tournament story. With 61 assists in those nine tournament games, he only needs seven to break the career record held by Samantha Prahalis of Ohio State (67 in 11 games from 2009 to 2012). Watch for Sunday. His 224 points are fourth in Big Ten tournament history. She’ll need next year to break the 265 mark set by Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell. (Or will she?)
There was a scary moment involving Clark with about a minute left in the first half. She was retiring on a fast break and made a hard contact with Maryland star Diamond Miller (who liked to agitate the pro-Hawkeye crowd). A charge was called and Clark writhed on the floor in pain. Turns out she was just trying to catch her breath. The sudden fall took her breath away.
She spent a brief period on the bench and returned to ensure Iowa held a 47-42 halftime lead.
“Diamond is a very good player. You see her coming full steam ahead right at you, it’s not an amazing sight,” Clark said with a smile. “Probably the first charge I took in my career. But it happened at the right time. Coach Abby (Stamp) has to buy me coffee for this.
A blown call could have been very expensive.
Iowa seemed to have the game in hand, up 85-81 with the ball in half court and 35 seconds left. As Martin looked to grab the pass, Miller slapped the ball very clearly – in front of dozens of reporters on the pitch – but no official saw the infraction. It should have been a technical foul on Maryland. On the heels of that, Clark was called for an offensive foul as he tried to open up – giving the ball to Maryland, who quickly closed the gap to 85-84 on a 3-point Lavender Briggs with 25 seconds to play.
“It should have been a technical issue,” Clark said, as Martin nodded in agreement. “I don’t know whose fault it was, me or (Marshall). I mean, I didn’t touch her. I don’t know what he saw. He called it behind me. It’s a tough call at the end of the game. But I think we answered very well, that’s all you can do. He’s not going to go back and change the call.
After an awkward inbounds pass with a one-point lead, Warnock was beaten for the loose ball and canned both free throws for an 87-84 lead. Iowa played great defense and forced a tough 3-pointer with 8 seconds left by Abby Meyers. Warnock cemented the final margin with two more free throws.
Had the Hawkeyes lost that game, that missed technical foul would have been a top story. Thanks to Iowa’s tough finish, that was a footnote.
Is an NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed on the line?
Bluder wasn’t exactly in the mood to discuss Iowa’s potential to move up the ranks with a potential win over Ohio State, and that’s understandable.
“They’re smart and they’ll know what it really means (for the standings),” Bluder said, “but for them playing for the championship is really, really important. And that’s first and foremost in our mind right now. We’re not thinking about the NCAAs.
But that doesn’t mean We can’t talk about it.
On Saturday, ESPN support expert Charlie Creme — who has a fantastic track record with this stuff — listed Iowa as the No. 2 seed in the same region as top-ranked South Carolina. Meanwhile, Creme had Indiana and Maryland named No. 1 seeds in their respective regions following Utah’s surprising quarterfinal loss to Washington State in the Pacific-12 tournament on Friday. Creme dropped Utah to the No. 2 seed, and on Saturday the second No. 2 seed (LSU) suffered a loss to Tennessee in the SEC Tournament.
That win over Maryland should also be enough to move Iowa past the Terrapins on the overall starting line. Iowa has won two of three against Maryland this season and has a better NCAA NET ranking. And while second-ranked Indiana deserves to stay on the No. 1 line with just three losses, could the Hawkeyes fight their way to No. 1 as well? An argument could be possible, especially as Iowa added to its program record with a fifth win over an AP top-10 opponent, should the Hawkeyes beat the Buckeyes for the second time.
But even if Iowa remains a No. 2 seed, the hope should be that it has made its way out of the South Carolina region (with the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight slated for Greenville, SC). It would be an unfortunate draw at this point.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow covered the sport for 28 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.