Caitlin Clark maintained her lead to 24 points as Iowa

Caitlin Clark maintained her lead to 24 points as Iowa fell to Indiana

  • Caitlin Clark maintained her lead to 24 points as Iowa.png&h=80&w=80&scale=crop

    Michael Voepel, February 23, 2024, 12:38 a.m. ET


      Michael Voepel covers the WNBA, women's college basketball and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women's basketball in 1984 and has been with ESPN since 1996.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — In front of a sold-out crowd at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Indiana on Thursday, Iowa star Caitlin Clark may have felt at times that most of the 17,222 in attendance were protecting her. That's how hard the No. 14 Hoosiers made it against Clark and the No. 4 Hawkeyes, winning 86-69.

The 17-point loss was Iowa's largest since its 17-point loss to LSU in last season's national championship game. Clark's 24 points were eight below her average and marked her lowest point total since Dec. 2, when she also scored 24 points in a win over Bowling Green. It's their second-worst total of the season; Their lowest total was 21 on November 25 against Florida Gulf Coast.

A week ago at home in Iowa City, Clark set the school record with 49 points, breaking the NCAA women's basketball career points record. The Hawkeyes hadn't played since then until Thursday, while the Hoosiers suffered an 86-66 loss at Illinois on Monday.

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Indiana coach Teri Moren admitted the Hoosiers “laid an egg” against the Illini. They went into Thursday's game believing they needed to beat Iowa to strengthen their chances of earning a spot in the top 16 of the NCAA Tournament. This is particularly important in women's basketball, as these teams are allowed to host early-round games.

“You lose a game like Illinois and you think, 'Oh, wow, our backs are against the wall,'” Moren said. “Tonight was a step in the right direction to ensure that [host seed] for our fans.

“We made everything very difficult for Caitlin Clark tonight, and that's hard. She’s a phenomenal player.”

Clark, who was 8 of 26 overall and 3 of 16 from 3-point range, said Indiana's defense was one of the toughest Iowa has faced this season.

“Because I was being physically attacked, protecting my face and denying myself the ball, I had a lot of different people coming at me,” Clark said. “Kind of threw me off and got me a little lower than I wanted to be. Thrown a little box-and-one on us.”

“Once you get down there, you kind of have to start taking some shots that maybe you wouldn’t take [normally] definitely take it with you. I thought maybe we could have driven to the basket more. I wouldn't say we're really a team that plays from the back a lot. We fought, but they always responded and had an answer.”

The Hawkeyes trailed by 11 points at halftime, marking only the second time this season that they had trailed at halftime.

The loss came almost a year to the day after Iowa lost by 28 points at Maryland last season (Feb. 21, 2023). Iowa responded by not losing again until the NCAA Finals and winning the Big Ten Tournament along the way.

Thursday's loss left the Hawkeyes' hopes of winning the 2024 Big Ten regular-season title a distant memory; They are now 12-3 in the league, behind Ohio State (14-1) and Indiana (13-3). Iowa has three regular season games remaining: at home against Illinois (Sunday), at Minnesota (Feb. 28) and at home against Ohio State (March 3).

Clark, who passed former Washington star Kelsey Plum for the NCAA scoring record on Feb. 15, now has 3,593 career points, closing in on two more records. Lynette Woodard of Kansas has the AIAW women's major college score with 3,649 points, and LSU's Pete Maravich is the men's NCAA record holder with 3,667 points. Pearl Moore of Francis Marion holds the AIAW record for small women's schools with 3,884.

Clark trails Maravich by 75 points and is on pace to do so on March 3 against the Buckeyes. But she said her concern now is getting Iowa (23-4) back to winning ways.

“This is a great environment to come and play basketball,” Clark said. “It’s fiercely competitive, that’s what it’s all about. Every battle is heated when playing against the top teams in the Big Ten. You know, one loss, one win could change the league lead.” [in] Fighting for a regular season title. That's exactly how it should be.