Gophers women’s basketball falls short in Iowa

An all-world performance from Iowa’s Caitlin Clark proved to be too much for Gophers to overcome.

Gophers+center+Klarke+Sconiers+fights+for+a+pass+at+Williams+Arena+on+Wednesday%2C+Dec.+2.+The+Gophers+defeated+Eastern+Illinois+72-68.

Shannon Doyle

Gophers center Klarke Sconiers fights for a pass at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Dec. 2. The Gophers defeated Eastern Illinois 72-68.

Tony Liebert, Sports Reporter

After a terrific first half of basketball, the Gophers women’s basketball team surrendered a second-half surge, getting outscored 54-31, as Iowa won 92-79.

Following Sunday’s win over Wisconsin, Minnesota had a red-hot Iowa team next on its schedule. Prior to Wednesday’s matchup, the Hawkeyes had won seven of eight games this season. Their scoring is led by freshman guard Caitlin Clark and preseason All-Big Ten forward Monika Czinano, who happens to be the sister of 2021 Gophers commit Maggie Czinano. Through eight games, the duo of Clark and Czinano had averaged 45.8 of the team’s 92.1 points.

As a team, the Hawkeyes entered as one of the most prolific offenses in the country. Their 92.1 points per contest ranks fourth-best in the country. The Gophers were faced with an uphill battle as their 81.0 points allowed per game ranks 324 out of 335 Division I teams.

Prior to tip-off, Minnesota’s starting lineup saw one alteration from its norm. Five-star freshman guard Alexia Smith made her starting five debut in place of Sara Scalia. Scalia suffered an injury Sunday against Wisconsin, but it did not prevent the sophomore guard from playing in this one, as she was the second Gophers player off the bench.

“In Wisconsin, I separated my shoulder,” Scalia said. “Before this game, I got an injection to numb my shoulder and play with the pain.”

Kadi Sissoko led the Gophers to quite the hot start. The former Syracuse transfer led all scorers with 11 first-quarter points. Minnesota’s highest-scoring quarter of the season saw the team shoot 10-of-18 from the field and 5-of-9 from three. The scorching start saw the team lead 27-19 after one-quarter of play.

Clark, Iowa’s star freshman, did her best to keep the Hawkeyes within striking distance with 19 first-half points. Clark’s heroics didn’t slow down the Gophers, as they added to their first-quarter lead by two. Minnesota found its offensive success from three players. Jasmine Powell, Scalia and Sissoko combined for 39 of the Gophers’ 48 first-half points resulting in a 48-38 halftime lead.

“They’re a team that hasn’t lost at home in 40-some games, and we punched them,” Gophers’ head coach Lindsay Whalen said after the game. “You have to stick with the game plan when someone punches back.”

Lisa Bluder’s Hawkeye squad did not go down without a fight, outpacing the Gophers 30-13 in the third quarter. Clark began to completely take over the ball game with 12 points in the third, bringing her game total to 31. Minnesota had no answer and trailed 68-61 heading into the final quarter of play.

It was much of the same in the fourth quarter, but this time Czinano found her rhythm for Iowa with 10 points in the quarter. The duo of Clark and Czinano finished with 56 of Iowa’s 92 points, and the Gophers would ultimately fall 92-79, and now drop to 2-5 on the season.

Clark truly had a remarkable performance finishing with 37 points on 12-of-19 shooting from the field and 5-of-9 from beyond the arc, adding 11 rebounds and five assists. The Gophers put together one of their best games of the season, but Clark’s performance truly overtook a game that was much closer than the box score showed.

“We switched up pick-and-roll defenses on her, we went with some man and zone, we switched up match-ups on her,” Whalen said. “She scores 37 in the second half and we guard Monica Czinano, maybe we’re talking about a different game.”

Next on the schedule for Whalen’s Gophers’ squad is a Jan. 10 home matchup with (3-4) Penn State.