IOWA CITY, Iowa — In a sold-out Big Ten showdown before a national prime-time audience, No. 3 Iowa once again reminded No. 13 Indiana and everyone else watching that it has Caitlin Clark — and they don’t.
The Hawkeyes buried the Hoosiers with a 3-point barrage, knocking down 15 in an 84-57 blowout Saturday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Among her 30 points, Iowa’s Clark drilled a pair of logo 3-pointers and dished 11 assists. The victory was as dominant as it was complete. Consider it a highly visible statement by the defending NCAA runners-up to the rest of women’s basketball.
“I think the sky’s the limit,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said.
It’s hardly unusual for a game between the Hawkeyes and Hoosiers to generate eyeballs and interest. In the land of yesteryear, which feels closer to yesterday than four decades ago, Iowa and Indiana matchups sold out Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and iconic men’s basketball coaches Bob Knight and Tom Davis seemed larger than life.
In 2024, it’s still happening. This time, it involves their women’s basketball teams. Bluder, the winningest coach in Big Ten women’s basketball history, stood on one side while IU’s Teri Moren, who guided the Hoosiers to the Big Ten regular-season crown last year, walked the opposite sideline. Clark, the reigning national player of the year, faced a fellow Naismith finalist in center Mackenzie Holmes.
The Hawkeyes (17-1, 6-0 Big Ten) and Hoosiers (14-2, 5-1) entered the game unbeaten and tied atop the Big Ten standings. After Iowa’s Gabbie Marshall drilled a 3-pointer to put the Hawkeyes up by 15 points, the sound inside reached 115 decibels. The Hawkeyes won decisively — and Clark once again stole the show — but the scene and setup were as notable as the result.
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Fans wearing black and gold filled the arena bowl despite 25 inches of snow hitting the Iowa City area and a blizzard sending the wind chill to 29 degrees below zero. Gus Johnson and Sarah Kustok called the game for Fox in prime time, and that this showdown aired on a major network opposed by an NFL playoff game showed it’s no novelty act.
“This game being televised was a big deal,” Bluder said. “I think it’s partly because of the atmosphere that we have here at Iowa. You had two great teams competing against each other. You’ve got the best player in America. I mean, that’s must-see TV. So why wouldn’t you want to have this game on?”
It’s been a while since I’ve felt this kind of energy at Carver. Probably not since the last time these two teams played.
Indiana and Iowa entered the Big Ten on the same day: Dec. 1, 1899. They were the first two expansion teams in college sports history.
— Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman) January 14, 2024
Johnson had never watched Clark in person and was giddy to call her game when he arrived two hours before tip. He got his start in the business as a student broadcasting Howard Lady Bison games with coach Sanya Tyler and called New York Liberty games in the WNBA for 10 years. Of all the great athletes he has covered, he sees something different in Clark, whom he called a “virtuoso.”
“I had never watched a player like Diana (Taurasi), especially when she got to the WNBA,” Johnson said. “But this young lady (Clark) is a whole different level. She’s playing in a different dimension, a different realm.
“She is a perfect example of the evolution of the game of basketball. I’ve never seen a woman with that kind of range and that kind of fluidness, handle. She can go wherever she wants to go on the court, and she’s got an incredible acumen for this game. She sees things people don’t see.”
When asked about the Clark phenomenon, Johnson compared the Iowa senior to the pinnacle of athletic success.
“Michael Jordan,” Johnson said. “He was Mick Jagger. He was a one-man rock show, and that’s what Caitlin is. She’s a rock star. People just gravitate towards her because of her spectacular play. She doesn’t just play well; she plays with a pizzazz, a swagger, a cockiness, orneriness, but with a big smile, kind of like Larry Bird used to. Excuse my French, but she’ll talk more than a little s— to you on the floor.”
With 32 seconds left in the third quarter, Clark blasted a 3-pointer from the logo’s Tigerhawk beak to give the Hawkeyes a commanding 63-48 lead. Clark waved her arms and the crowd responded enthusiastically. On Iowa’s first possession in the fourth quarter, Clark passed to guard Molly Davis for a layup and tweaked her ankle. One minute later, Clark re-entered the game to applause. It was her 46th career 30-point game.
But what also makes Iowa so dangerous are the players who surround Clark. Davis scored 18 points and choked up in a postgame news conference after describing her expanding role with the Hawkeyes. Kate Martin remained the Hawkeyes’ glue performer with 10 points and 12 rebounds. Marshall drained four 3-pointers, and nobody spaces the floor — which helps Clark — better when she’s knocking down perimeter shots.
At game’s end, perhaps a thousand youths lined up near the tunnel to Iowa’s locker room, hoping for a picture or a signature from Clark. With security around her, Clark signed a few autographs, then left for the locker room. She’s the superstar at home or away, and every game she has played not a neutral site has sold out this year. It’s generated intense love in most situations — or modest vitriol in others.
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“That’s what kind of comes with it when you have the stardom,” she said. “I think something that I try to live by is, at the level you feel the praise, that’s the level you’re going to feel the hate, too. So you’ve got to stay right in the middle.”
Either way, Clark and the Hawkeyes continue to elevate the sport with each game, whether it’s an exhibition on a football field or a sold-out home game with the cheapest pre-blizzard tickets going for nearly $270 apiece. Their traveling rock show will fill up many arenas and generate quality television ratings.
“Everybody loves a winner,” Johnson said. “They want to see her play because she’s a winner. And she’s going to keep winning. And keep amazing, I think, America and the world.”
(Photo: Matthew Holst / Getty Images)