It took Caitlin Clark just 15 seconds to announce her presence to the Xfinity Center crowd. College basketball’s top scorer stepped back, rose over Lavender Briggs and drilled a deep three-pointer.
That was the first of seven threes Clark made in a 38-point performance that led No. 3 Iowa to a 93-85 win over Maryland women’s basketball on Saturday.
Clark, who has ushered in massive crowds across the Big Ten this year, dazzled in front of a sold-out arena in College Park. The reigning Naismith Player of the Year added 12 assists and six rebounds.
Maryland (12-10, 4-7 Big Ten) has now lost four straight. Coach Brenda Frese threw a wide variety of defensive coverages at Clark. None of them worked.
“I thought we made Caitlin work for everything that she got tonight,” Frese said.
The Terps first tried Briggs, who held the Iowa phenom to just 18 points in a February Terps win. Briggs, who’s come off the bench for most of the season, filled in for an injured Shyanne Sellers on Wednesday. Frese kept Briggs in the starting five even as Sellers returned, instead swapping out Allie Kubek.
The matchup worked in Maryland’s favor early. Clark committed two turnovers and Terps took an early 11-3 lead. Hawkeyes’ coach Lisa Bluder took her first timeout with about seven minutes left in the quarter and her team regrouped. Iowa (21-2, 10-1 Big Ten) went on a 24-8 run the rest of the first quarter, including a deep Clark three to end the frame.
Iowa leads the nation in points per game and offensive rating entering Saturday. Much of that stems from having the nation’s best scorer on your roster. But the other Hawkeyes also showed their offensive talents.
Kate Martin and Molly Davis combined for 32 points on Saturday. Davis’s constant movement off the ball gifted her numerous wide-open layups.
Iowa relentlessly exploited Maryland’s defense in the first half and scored in waves. Clark finished the half with 23 points and the Hawkeyes led by 14 at halftime.
But Maryland’s offense brought it back as the Terps played among their best ten minutes of the season in the third quarter, a frame that’s been an issue for them all season.
Against their toughest opponent this season, they dominated. After trailing by as much as 18 in the quarter, Maryland went on a 23-3 run to go ahead by two.
Bri McDaniel fueled the comeback. The sophomore scored 22 points and was the primary second-half defender on Clark in Maryland’s box and one defense. Her and-one layup to tie the game brought the home crowd to its feet.
“I feel like the game is slowing down more for me,” McDaniel said. “Last year it was tough because I wasn’t playing that much. I was a freshman, I didn’t know what to do.”
Jakia Brown-Turner played one of her most efficient games of the season. The N.C. State transfer led Maryland in scoring with 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting.
Maryland finished the quarter shooting 60 percent from the field and briefly took the lead, but Iowa responded with a 10-1 run to lead by seven entering the final frame.
Both teams traded baskets in the fourth quarter but the Terps’ inability to limit the Hawkeyes to one shot doomed them. Iowa’s nine offensive rebounds in the fourth helped it drain precious seconds off the clock and score five second-chance points.
The Hawkeyes’ dagger came after an offensive rebound, with Davis making a three with just forty seconds on the clock to extend Iowa’s lead to nine.
“We did such a great job at the end of the game on [offensive rebounding] and I think that’s a big reason why we won,” Davis said.
Added Sellers: “I think out of the zone, it was just difficult to find a body.”
This week marked a pivotal stretch for Maryland, with matchups against ranked squads Indiana and Iowa. In the preseason, the two-game slate marked the Terps’ chance to take control of the conference title race.
Now, after a season-long dropoff from last year’s Elite Eight run and two losses by a combined 22 points, they’re merely trying to secure an NCAA tournament berth.