Takeaways from Caitlin Clark's latest show and Iowa's stirring win at No. 2 Ohio State (2023)

Caitlin Clark got the only 21st birthday present she wanted, a win at Ohio State. And along with it, the Iowa women’s basketball team got some overdue payback.

All the Hawkeyes did in recording Monday night’s 83-72 win at Value City Arena in Columbus was notch the highest-ranked road win in program history; the Buckeyes carried a 19-0 record and No. 2 rating into this ESPN2-televised game.

Despite the Hawkeyes’ success in recent years, they had lost four in a row to Ohio State – in the opener of the 2020 Big Ten Tournament right before the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the NCAA Tournament; twice in the ensuing season; and in the lone meeting last year, when the Buckeyes’ physical play at Carver-Hawkeye Arena resulted in starters Gabbie Marshall and McKenna Warnock being injured and missing several games apiece.

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder blasted the officiating after that one; Warnock was “mugged” (her word) in a crucial late-game sequence without a call in that 92-88 loss. The Hawkeyes and Buckeyes would end up tied for the regular-season Big Ten title, with Ohio State getting the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament (which Iowa won).

Takeaways from Caitlin Clark's latest show and Iowa's stirring win at No. 2 Ohio State (2)

“(Ohio State) has come into Carver the last two years and beat us,” Bluder said on her postgame radio interview. “So, it was nice to return the favor.”

Here are some more thoughts off the rousing win for Iowa (16-4), which at 8-1 in league play is now in a three-way tie with Ohio State and Indiana for first place.

The recap from Columbus:How the Hawkeyes took down No. 2 Ohio State

An award-winning performance for Caitlin Clark

Despite her gaudy freshman and sophomore stats, Iowa’s superstar guard has yet to win a marquee national player of the year award. That drought seems more and more likely to end with Clark’s continued epic play.

Clark became just the second player – man or woman – to record a triple-double against an Associated Press top-two team. Her 28 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists against the Buckeyes mean she and Marquette’s Dwyane Wade hold that distinction. Clark's season averages are up to 26.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game.

What was most impressive about Clark’s performance was that she very intentionally tried to get her teammates involved from the get-go. That’s an underappreciated part about her game. She doesn’t pad her assist stats − she genuinely plays an unselfish style to make sure as many teammates as possible get heated up … which ultimately means less defensive attention on herself later in games, and that's good for the Hawkeyes.

Monday, Clark shot the ball only once on Iowa’s first nine possessions and twice on the first 13. She had five assists before her first made basket. Ten of her 15 assists were on makes by reliable post Monika Czinano, who finished with 22 points on 11-of-13 shooting.

Though Clark wound up with seven turnovers, she was never out of control. She made countless daring passes, with maybe her best being a fast-break bounce pass that split two Buckeyes to lead to an easy Marshall layup. She sensed when she needed to take over, when she needed to defer to others and when she needed to draw contact and get to the foul line. Clark’s 28-point outing included two of her signature “logo” 3-pointers in the first half and 9-for-10 shooting from the foul line.

Clark previously scored 43 points against Ohio State but Iowa came up short. Sunday, she celebrated her birthday. Monday, she got her first-ever win against the Buckeyes.

How did Iowa score 83 despite going 6½ minutes without points?

That’s hard to do. After taking a 56-44 advantage on Sydney Affolter’s putback with 5:56 left in the third quarter, Iowa didn’t score again until the fourth. The crowd of 9,955 was roaring as the Buckeyes’ defense squeezed Iowa and Czinano sat on the bench with four fouls. The Big Ten’s No. 1 offense went 11 straight possessions without scoring, yet the Hawkeyes kept their composure on the road and played good enough defense to cling to a 56-54 advantage entering the fourth quarter.

Credit a veteran, battle-tested lineup for staying calm. Senior Kate Martin quietly had a double-double of her own with 13 points and 11 rebounds. Grad-transfer senior guard Molly Davis (in her first career Iowa start, with Warnock out with a rib-cage injury) stepped up and ended the lengthy drought with her only points of the game – a top-of-the-key 3 just 33 seconds in the fourth quarter – that quieted the crowd. And of course, credit Clark, who had nine points, four rebounds and five assists in the fourth quarter alone. Clark played the maximum 40 minutes Monday.

Hannah Stuelke continues to come of age.

For the second straight Big Ten game, Czinano experienced foul trouble. On Wednesday at Michigan State, Czinano fouled out with 22 points in 22 minutes on an 11-for-11 shooting night. But her long stretches on the bench then meant Stuelke had to step up. She did so, with seven points and nine rebounds in the Hawkeyes’ imperfect-but-relieving 84-81 overtime win.

On Monday, Stuelke was again ready to go when her number was called. Within a few seconds of being subbed into the game, she grabbed the first of what would become a career-high 13 rebounds. The 6-foot-2 freshman from Cedar Rapids Washington has shown flashes of offense, but what is most impressive – and most needed for this team – is her relentless effort and ability to run the floor. She plays hard, and that’s paying off. Her active presence and excellent hands Monday helped Iowa dominate on the glass with a 51-31 rebounding advantage.

In one notable first-half sequence, Stuelke tried to score against imposing Ohio State center Rebeka Mikulasikova but misfired. She hustled back on defense, and after a loose ball under the basket was retrieved by Davis, Stuelke immediately whipped her body around and went into a dead sprint the other way. Her hustle was rewarded. Davis flipped the ball to Clark, who dribbled once and flung a perfectly thrown chest pass that traveled at least 50 feet over the top of Ohio State’s retreating defense. Stuelke, still running, caught the ball in stride and scored off the glass for a 36-28 Iowa lead.

With one dribble, Iowa traveled 94 feet – thanks to Clark’s pass and Stuelke’s speed. She finished with eight points in 21:47 of court time while Czinano was held to 23:48 of action due to the fouls. Stuelke has become one of this team’s most important players, offering Czinano some backup that she didn’t have a year ago.

A crucial win for Big Ten tiebreakers, but a long way to go.

In a postgame video sent out on social media by Iowa women’s basketball, Bluder is seen telling her team during the locker-room celebration, “The sky is the limit for you. This team can do anything it wants to when it puts its mind to it, just like you did today. The hard makes us better. The hard makes us great. We’ve been through the hard. You are really, really good.”

Iowa has won 11 of its last 12 games after three early-season losses (Kansas State, UConn, North Carolina State), including five in a row. By Tuesday morning, it had moved up to a No. 2 seed in ESPN's NCAA Tournament projection. This was the Hawkeyes’ only regular-season meeting against Ohio State. They won their lone date against then-No. 14 Michigan (also on the road) a few Saturdays ago on national broadcast TV.

Takeaways from Caitlin Clark's latest show and Iowa's stirring win at No. 2 Ohio State (3)

Up next: Saturday vs. Nebraska (12-8, 4-5), which always seems to play Iowa tough. After the win, Clark tweeted, “CARVER ON SATURDAY VS. NEBRASKA, NEED YOU ALL THERE.”

After that, the schedule really ramps up in February – including two games against perennial front-runner Maryland (16-4, 7-2) and two against Indiana (18-1, 8-1). Those results could very well decide who wins the Big Ten regular-season title. But now we know that if Iowa ties in the standings with Ohio State, it’ll get the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 28years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.

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