Gophers Fall to Iowa Hawkeyes: Reporter Maya Aflakpi Witnesses Historic Hoops by Caitlin Clark

MINNEAPOLIS—On February 28, there was a cold wind in the air over Minnesota with cloudy skies. It was the type of weather where you just hope your body somehow gets warm, teeth clenching as you try to keep yourself distracted. Two hours before game time, hundreds of bundled-up fans were outside patiently waiting in a long, organized line to see this showdown. The Caitlin Clark craze made it to Minnesota.

Wednesday night was a highly anticipated and now-historic matchup between two Big Ten women’s basketball teams. The Iowa Hawkeyes displayed their dominance with a 108-60 victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers at the 14,625-fan-packed Williams Arena.

The Gophers became a part of a historic game as senior point guard Caitlin Clark became the women’s all-time leading scorer in college basketball, earning 3,650 points. Clark confidently said, “It’s super special just to be in this same realm of a lot of really talented players that have done a lot of really great things for not just men’s basketball or just women’s basketball but just basketball in general.”

This matchup marked the second-ever sold-out home game for the Gopher women’s team. The audience drawn by this Iowa vs. Minnesota matchup is prime time for women’s basketball, but the Hawkeyes aren’t new to this crowd. Gophers’ first-year coach, Dawn Plitzuweit, after the defeat, expressed, “I thought the crowd was great and that’s what they see in every game that they’re in, but I thought there was a lot of maroon and gold in the crowd so that was awesome to see,” adding, “It was a good opportunity for us to continue getting better playing in front of a larger crowd than usual.”

There may have been many Hawkeyes, but there were also many Gopher fans in the barn. This night was full of special moments. It was senior night for Janay Sanders, as she is the only one graduating and leaving this squad. Such a bittersweet moment, and she has brought a lot of energy and spark to this Gopher team, drawing a majority of fouls for this squad. Teammate Amaya Battle is always asking Sanders about her game, saying, “How do you do that?”.

Minnesota has struggled to find their rhythm this second half of the season. There is a sense of nervousness and frustration that causes players to miss assignments. Coach Plitzuweit applauded Iowa’s game and said, “I think we’ve got a lot to learn on how to compete and make things happen and play all out and play on edge but ultimately you gotta be able to score too and that’s been something that’s been a little bit of a struggle for us so we have to keep working on it.”

Game Summary

The sound of screaming fans is all you can hear as the starting lineup for the Iowa Hawkeyes announces Caitlin Clark. The master of 3s, number 22, confidently jogs on the floor as her name is announced. Clark’s confidence is a part of her game. In the matchup when she missed a 3, it wouldn’t affect her; she would stay locked in.

From the start, it was clear Iowa (25-3, 16-1 B1G) meant business. With Clark scoring 33 points, they took control early, leaving Minnesota (15-13, 5-12 B1G) trying to catch up. Both teams struggled with turnovers, but Iowa was able to capitalize on Minnesota’s errors, converting them into crucial points. Minnesota’s defense tried to do their best without two key players, sophomore guard Mara Braun and junior center Sophie Hart, who helped the Gophers become one of the top defenses in the Big Ten Conference. The Gophers’ defense wasn’t enough as Clark seemed to be more comfortable shooting off the dribble and creating off the bounce. She started off the game with a bang getting the first 15 points for Iowa. By the end of the game, Clark had a triple-double.

Coach Plitzuweit expressed how the Gophers missed some assignments early and gave Clark good looks at the start: “She’s the most dominant player, the best player to have ever played in the women’s game bar none and to do what she does game after game is almost mind-boggling, honestly I have a lot of appreciation for what she is doing,” adding, “In terms of her game today, I think it’s really tough we didn’t do a very good job,” said Coach P.

Clark is not the only star for the Hawkeyes that made it challenging for Minnesota. Sophomore forward Hannah Stuelke’s tenacity on the court, coupled with 5th-year guard Molly Davis’ precision shooting, initially hinted at a competitive showdown for the Gophers. Clark’s dazzling display of versatility, combined with 5th-year guard Gabbie Marshall’s precision from beyond the arc earning her 1,000 career points in this ball game, quickly shifted the advantage to Iowa.

As for the Gophers game today, sophomore guard Amaya Battle led the Golden Gophers with 18 points, closely followed by Janay Sanders with 17 points. Sophomore forward Mallory Heyer demonstrated her dominance, pulling down an impressive 11 rebounds for Minnesota. Freshman guard Grace Grocholski’s 12 points gave her 18 performances this season in double figures, which is a team high. Grocholski was recently mentioned by the Big Ten Network as a candidate for Freshman of the Year. Despite the effort from the Gophers’ trio of Battle, Sanders, and Grocholski earning 47 points together, it didn’t come close to Iowa’s non-stop attacks on offense, which were just too much for Minnesota to handle.

Minnesota is a team that is going to come back with vengeance. Coach Plitzuweit said, “Our goal going into it was all 14,000 people leave and to say we competed at a really high level but I don’t think we really did that.” The Gophers not having Braun  while not having players that can continuously score coming from the bench, makes it almost impossible to have a chance against this Hawkeye team. The Gophers playing without Braun is like Iowa playing without Clark. Minnesota had a pivotal gut-wrenching moment this season that nobody saw coming. Losing Braun was like losing the backbone of their team. Braun was without her boot during the Iowa game.

Iowa’s staggering 56.4% shooting from beyond the arc, led by Clark’s 8-of-14 shooting, played a pivotal role in their victory. Caitlin Clark’s goal was to change the game and she has. Clark is just heating up as after this senior season she has declared for the WNBA. She is on her way to beat the men’s all-time leading scorer Pete Maravich’s record of 3,667. Clark needs 18 points to beat that.

With the regular season winding down, the Gophers must regroup and refocus as they prepare for challenges ahead, including games against Penn State and the sold-out Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament scheduled for March 6-10. Wherever Clark is, the crowd will come. Iowa basketball fans likely hold the majority of those tickets. “Our fans travel really well; they have traveled really well all year. Hopefully, that continues to be the same going forward. It’s cool just to see the impact we have across the country. It’s really special, it never gets old,” said Clark with a smile on her face.

The Gophers plan to draw upon the lessons learned from this encounter as they prepare to face Penn State, eager to rebound and finish the season on a high note. Coach P shared what it has been like coaching this Gopher team: “We are trying to get better, we’re trying to compete. I love our young ladies; I think they’re fantastic people, I think they’re great teammates. We have some struggles but at the same time, we’ve also done some good things through the course of the year.”

The Golden Gophers will face off against Penn State this Sunday, March 3, at noon.

To catch the game and stay updated, you can watch on Big Ten Plus

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