The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa women’s basketball’s team effort, resilient second half against UConn lead Hawkeyes to national championship

Down six to the Huskies at halftime, no one in the Iowa locker room panicked.
Ayrton Breckenridge
Iowa guard Kate Martin celebrates after a NCAA Tournament Final Four game between No. 1 Iowa and No. 3 UConn at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio, on Friday, April 5, 2024. The Hawkeyes defeated the Huskies, 71-69. (Ayrton Breckenridge/The Daily Iowan)

CLEVELAND — No one panicked in the Iowa locker room at halftime.

Down six to UConn in the Final Four. Twelve turnovers. The National Player of the Year was 0-for-6 from beyond the arc with six total points.

Even after an “uncharacteristic” first half, the Hawkeyes stayed confident. UConn had only scored 13 points off of Iowa’s 12 turnovers. And despite Caitlin Clark’s slow start, No. 22 said her shot “felt good” in pregame warmups, so she knew her baskets would start falling.

“I think the best thing about our group is we went to the locker room at halftime and it wasn’t like ‘Oh, come on. You got to make shots.’ It was ‘Stop turning the ball over, and you’re gonna be perfectly fine,'” Clark said postgame. “I don’t think we were like freaking out about our offense not working … Everybody knew we just needed to clean it up a little bit, and that’s exactly what we did.”

It was a full team effort by the Iowa women’s basketball team on Friday night. Hannah Stuelke led all scorers with 23 points, and Clark finished right behind with 21 points, nine rebounds, and seven assists. This is the second time this season Clark hasn’t been Iowa’s leading scorer — Stuelke scored a career-high 47 points against Penn State on Feb. 8.

Those two Hawkeyes jumped off the stat sheet, but it was critical plays by Iowa’s other three starters that sealed the win.

“It’s not just me. It’s not just one player. That’s not what this is,” Clark said. “We wouldn’t be at this point right now if it was just one player. Everybody comes up and makes really big plays when we need them.”

Kate Martin had three clutch scoring plays in the fourth quarter, including a turnaround jumper and driving layup in the final three minutes to give Iowa a two-possession lead. “The Glue” finished the game with 11 points, eight boards, and two steals, despite getting knocked in the nose and leaving the game momentarily.

Bluder said Martin “was not going to be denied” in the fourth quarter.

“I don’t know what happened to her nose, but obviously, we all saw a lot of blood,” Bluder said of Martin. “That poor girl has broken her nose I think every single year she’s been at Iowa, but she is a warrior. She’s a leader. She’s the heart and soul of our team.”

Then, there was Gabbie Marshall. Back in her home state with family and friends watching from the crowd, Marshall held star guard Paige Bueckers to 17 points and made her work for every single bucket.

UConn trailed by one and had the ball with nine seconds left in the game. Marshall was in the right place at the right time and fell victim to a moving screen by Aliyah Edwards. Marshall, pumping her fists and yelling at the crowd in excitement, had regained possession for Iowa.

“She doesn’t get enough credit for what she does,” Clark said of Marshall’s defense. “She guards one of the best players in the country and really challenges her quite a bit.”

The Huskies had no other choice but to foul at this point. Martin got the ball into Clark,  an 86.2 percent free-throw shooter, and Bueckers fouled her with three seconds left.

Clark took a deep breath and swished the first free throw. The second rolled off the rim, but Sydney Affolter was right there to secure the biggest rebound of her career. Affolter ended the night with six offensive boards.

It was reminiscent of McKenna Warnock’s game-sealing board against South Carolina in last year’s Final Four.

In the final 30 seconds of that game, Iowa was up 75-73 when Clark missed a deep 3-point shot. The ball ricocheted off the rim, and Warnock was right there to secure it. If the Gamecocks would’ve grabbed the rebound, they would have had 18 seconds to draw up a play and go for the tying or game-winning shot.

Affolter let out a big smile and said Warnock texted her right after Friday night’s game about their similar clutch plays.

“I didn’t even know that it finished the game, honestly,” Affolter said of her final rebound. “I just was thinking, ‘I gotta get this rebound no matter what.’ I had to secure it whether it was at the end of the game or not.”

Clark said the maturity of this Iowa team helped them move on to the next play and not dwell on turnovers or missing open shots. The point guard said when she first got to Iowa, she felt like “[she] had to do everything.” Now, Clark and her teammates have the utmost confidence in each other to make big plays down the stretch.

Clark said she knew she couldn’t “fall in love with the 3-point shot” and commended UConn for how tough they guarded her. UConn consistently put two players on Clark when she started driving to the hoop, forcing her to give up the ball. UConn’s Nika Mühl, who Bluder compared to Marshall on the defensive end, especially gave Clark fits, getting in her space the second she started dribbling the ball up the floor.

“A few years ago, she would have gotten so frustrated. She would have been really upset, and in the huddles, she wasn’t mad at all,” Bluder said of Clark. “Sometimes people can feed off of her if she’s emotional in a bad way. So I thought that her composure in the huddle even when things weren’t going well for her in the first half was really a sign of her growth.”

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About the Contributors
Kenna Roering
Kenna Roering, Sports Editor
Kenna Roering is The Daily Iowan's sports editor. She is a junior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism with a minor in sports and recreation management. Kenna previously worked as a sports reporter for men's wrestling and volleyball and was the summer sports editor in 2023. This is her second year with the DI.
Ayrton Breckenridge
Ayrton Breckenridge, Managing Visuals Editor
Ayrton Breckenridge is the Managing Visuals Editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and cinema. This is his fourth year working for the DI.