IOWA CITY — Caitlin Clark stood along the baseline as her Iowa Hawkeyes were about to start stretching, and she slipped behind teammate Monika Czinano to surprise her with a bear hug. The duo giggled and didn’t seem to have a care in the world minutes before a critical nationally televised Big Ten showdown against another top-10 team in Maryland.
The smirk on Clark’s face seemed to say it all. The No. 8 Terrapins couldn’t handle what was coming.
Clark put up 42 points as No. 6 Iowa seized a big early lead and held on for a 96-82 victory Thursday night. The Hawkeyes (18-4, 10-1 Big Ten) snapped a four-game losing streak against Maryland (18-4, 9-3) and won their seventh straight game. The teams will play again Feb. 21 in College Park, but the loss puts the Terps in a challenging spot in terms of playing catch-up to win the regular season conference title.
“She’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of player,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said of Clark. “A pleasure to watch play unless you’re scouting her and going against her. She can do so many things well. She’s a special player.”
Clark is an all-American and the No. 2 scorer in the nation, so big games from her are commonplace — but this was different. Her first basket — and first shot — came from a Mediacom Court logo positioned halfway between the three-point line and half-court. The three was deep and was just the first of several she would hit from that logo.
By halftime Clark had 24 points, including five three-pointers, along with six rebounds and five assists. She led the way as the Hawkeyes took a 56-38 lead after the first 20 minutes, and she was a pest on defense, too.
“I don’t know how you cannot say that Caitlin Clark is not the national player of the year,” Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said. “I don’t know how you can say that she is not. She was unbelievable tonight.”
Iowa never trailed after falling behind 2-0.
Clark was the catalyst for everything in that first half. She scored or assisted on 34 points; Maryland, meanwhile, had 38 as a team. The Hawkeyes shot 64.9 percent in the first half, and Czinano also feasted, scoring 18 points before the break.
Maryland used a 14-4 stretch, led by Diamond Miller, early in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 10 points, but then Clark got going again. She buried a sidestep three from next to the logo on the other end of the court to give Iowa a 71-57 lead, then she turned to the crowd, raised her palms upward and gave a shoulder shrug reminiscent of Michael Jordan.
Clark said she is not concerned about being named national player of the year.
“As long as my team wins, all that takes care of itself,” she said. “It’s not something I think about every day. But that is a huge honor. Even last year. when I was in the conversation for it, it is a huge honor. It’s a huge honor for our team, for our program to have players in that conversation just like Megan [Gustafson] was. It is a big deal, so it’s not something that, I don’t just brush it off.
“But that’s not the reason you play the game of basketball. I play it because I love it.”
Clark’s 42 points represent her second-highest total of the season, and she finished with eight assists, seven rebounds, two steals and a block. Czinano called it a night with 28 points on 14-for-18 shooting.
Maryland watched a five-game winning streak come to an end as the offense sputtered and the defense had no answer for Iowa’s dynamic duo. Miller struggled with foul trouble but still finished with 27 points and six rebounds. Shyanne Sellers was aggressive from the outset and scored a career-high 26 points to go with six rebounds. Abby Meyers chipped in 15 points and seven rebounds. No other Terp scored more than six.
“Just being aggressive and going downhill,” Sellers said about her 26 points. “Their guards are a little bit undersized, so I had the height advantage. Just trying to attack them and be aggressive.”
The Terps’ offense never had much flow, and 18 turnovers hurt. Maryland was 2 for 11 from behind the arc despite Frese being happy with the shot attempts. Maryland had been playing defense at an elite level during the winning streak, and the 96 points allowed were the most they have given up all season.
Here’s what else to know about Maryland’s loss:
Pinzan joins 1,000-point club
Maryland point guard Elisa Pinzan scored four points to reach 1,000 for her career. She joins four of her teammates: Miller, Meyers, Lavender Briggs and Brinae Alexander.
Miller on Tuesday was named to the midseason top 10 watch list for the Ann Meyers Drysdale award, presented to the top shooting guard in the nation.
Sellers on Wednesday was named to the watch list for the Cheryl Miller award, given to the nation’s top small forward.
Home sweet home, kind of
Frese is a native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which is about a 30-minute drive from Iowa City. She had roughly 40 friends and family members in the building for the game.
When she was a kid, Frese attended basketball camps inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena that were hosted by Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer, who was then the coach at Iowa.