basketball Edit

Iowa 64, West Virginia 54: Surviving, Advancing

Caitlin Clark gestures to the crowd in the final seconds of Iowa's win over West Virginia Monday night.
Caitlin Clark gestures to the crowd in the final seconds of Iowa's win over West Virginia Monday night. (© Zach Boyden-Holmes / USA TODAY NETWORK)

IOWA CITY — West Virginia head coach Mark Kellogg said last week that he wanted to send Caitlin Clark and Iowa packing. Mission accomplished: Clark and the Hawkeyes are packing for Albany and the Sweet 16.

Iowa withstood a ferocious press defense from the visiting 8-seed and its own cold shooting to outlast the upset-minded Mountaineers, 64-54, and advance to the Sweet 16 in Albany. The Hawkeyes finished the game on a 12-2 run, and Clark led all scorers with 32 points in the win.

The Deep Three


1. Iowa can win ugly too. For as much as West Virginia's defense loomed over this game, the Hawkeyes' defensive effort down the stretch sealed the win — starting with a clutch block by Gabbie Marshall that turned into a Sydney Affolter and-one that gave Iowa a 55-52 lead it would not relinquish.

The block mirrored Marshall's swat in the closing minutes of the Big Ten Championship against Nebraska — right down to Marshall blaming herself for the shots going up in the first place.

"I was a little late getting over on my rotation, but it ended up working out," said Marshall. "Both came in pretty crucial moments in both games. I'm going to do whatever the team needs me to do, and work my butt off the whole game.”

Hannah Stuelke, who finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks against the smaller West Virginia lineup, frequently found herself on the receiving end of the Mountaineers' active hands and physicality on the interior; Stuelke's four turnovers were second-highest on the team Monday, next to Clark's six.

Nonetheless, thanks to Stuelke's post presence — she played 37 minutes, second only to Clark's 39+ — the Mountaineers were just 10-2ol-3 in the paint, a killer for a WVU team that doesn't have the outside shooting to make up the difference.

"A lot of people think we're only an offensive team," Stuelke said. "And we do work on defense all the time. I'm glad we got to show that tonight. That's what won this game."

Associate head coach Jan Jensen credited her team for stepping up in those crucial last five minutes, after West Virginia had tied the game after Iowa entered the fourth quarter leading 48-38.

"Honestly, winning at the Big Ten Tournament the way we did helped us win today," said Jensen. "We've been there, but no one's panicking. We've got to do what we've got to do; there's pressure now. There's 5:07, and we're tied. There's no time to think, 'oh, we blew that lead.' The pressure was on."

From the 5:07 mark, Iowa outscored the Mountaineers 16-6, with 14 of those points coming at the free throw line as West Virginia's swarming defense came home to roost and the fouls piled up. Social media didn't care for the 27-11 foul disparity by the end of the game, of course, but if anything, the Mountaineers were daring the officials to call more fouls with their physical play.

“We knew if we kept them under 70, we would have a really good chance, which we did," said West Virginia guard Jordan Harrison. "We executed that. We're known for our defense, and we knew that we could do that to them.”

Indeed, for most of the game, Iowa was trending behind its season-low on offense, suffered against Kansas State in the first loss of the season, 65-58. This time, Iowa's ability to lock down defensively kept the team from ceding the lead for the last 33 minutes of the game, even as West Virginia had its chances late.

"We did a little bit more zone, because they're more drivers," Affolter said. "But we really just talked about packing the paint and finishing on the box out. We got some big box-outs down the stretch, and that was really important."

2. Caitlin Clark embodies "survive and advance." As in most of the other games in which Iowa struggled this season, the team outside of Clark had difficulty scoring points. Only four Hawkeyes cracked the scoreboard, and Clark's three assists — which tied a season low with, again, that KSU loss — still led the team, who only managed seven assists on 16 made shots.

Iowa's 15 turnovers were troublesome on the cold shooting night, but against a defense that forced 24-plus per game over the regular season, Iowa's staff considered that a win on ball control.

"We were a little cold, but that's a heck of a defense," Jensen said. "I bet if you'd ask most Big 12 teams, they'd take that stat line."

"That was one of the better defensive teams we've seen all year," Bluder said. "I'm so proud of our team for only having six turnovers in the second half against that pressure defense. That's keeping your composure, especially when they tied it up."

Clark ended up with precisely half her team's points Monday night, even with the Mountaineer defenders living inside her jersey for most of the evening.

"We ran different kids at Clark as much as we possibly could to give her as many looks to hopefully frustrate her," Kellogg said. "Give her the little guys to go guard her, or JJ and Jordan, or put our bigger players on her."

To some extent, West Virginia's strategy worked — Clark shot an unremarkable 8-for-22 overall and 5-for-14 from deep, and her six turnovers were a game high. Iowa only gathered two of Clark's misses from the field, limiting Iowa's ability to turn the gunslinger's misses into second-chance points.

And yet: 32 points — 21 coming in the second half — and enough ball-control to limit the Mountaineers to 15 points off turnovers for the game.

"It's definitely difficult when people are out-pressuring and denying us like [the Mountaineers] were," Clark said. "There's definitely something we can learn from. There's going to be teams we face going into the next round that are going to pressure us the exact same way."

Perhaps not the exact same — West Virginia's pressure defense is likely the toughest Iowa will face all season — but as long as Molly Davis remains out with her ailing knee, opponents' defensive crosshairs will remain on Clark.

Now, at least, the Hawkeyes can be more confident in their ability to weather such a storm.

3. No other way to send out a senior class. There's a certain surreality to the fact that this senior class will never again suit up in the black and gold at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Kate Martin has spent six seasons in Iowa City, five on the court, and a lineup without her will look every bit as foreign as one without Clark, Marshall or the other seniors.

"I let myself feel the emotions [after the game]," Marshall said. "I teared up a little bit looking at the other seniors, just thinking about all the stuff we've been through together, all the memories we've made out there. And Carver just has such a special place in my heart. The fans are amazing, and when you actually experience it every night, you see how amazing Carver-Hawkeye Arena is."

Of course, Marshall's own play helped fuel that fan support, which showed up for Marshall as loudly as for #22.

"I just feel really grateful that I'm part of such a great program," Martin said. "What Coach Bluder has built here is tremendous, and I'm just super honored to be a part of this place."

"And, you know, we're not done yet," Martin said.

And One

With 1:07 left in the game, Quinerly fouled out on a physical defensive play on Stuelke. Quinerly protested — Stuelke had gotten her in the face with her off hand — but was headed to the bench regardless to raucous cheers from the Iowa crowd... only for Clark to shush the celebrating fans.

Thinking it was a subtle gesture of respect for the fellow competitor after a physical game, I asked Clark after the game what the gesture was for.

"I was telling them to be quiet so Hannah could shoot her free throws," Clark said with a laugh.

NEXT: Iowa will head to Albany, NY to face 5-seed Colorado in the Sweet 16 at 2:30 PM CT. ABC will televise the game.