SEATTLE – Caitlin Clark felt it was all happening a little too quick and on the stage of playing in a regional semifinal, Iowa's star needed to slow down for a change.
“I felt like I was playing a little frantic. I felt like I was rushed on offense," Clark said.
In this case, slowing down led to a big second half from Clark and the Hawkeyes.
Clark scored 31 points, 18 coming in the second half, and No. 2 seed Iowa shook disappointments the past two seasons and reached the Elite Eight of the women’s NCAA Tournament with an 87-77 win over Colorado in the Seattle 4 Regional semifinals on Friday night.
After two straight tournaments where Clark’s season ended in the round of 16 and the round of 32, the Hawkeyes will play for a chance at just the second Final Four berth in school history on Sunday.
“Anytime you get to play basketball for this long, it’s really special. None of us want this to end,” Iowa's Monika Czinano said.
Clark was the catalyst for Iowa’s big second half, and the first-team All-American finished 11 of 22 shooting with four 3-pointers and eight assists. It was her 11th game this season scoring at least 30 points.
But she had plenty of help, especially after Clark sat a chunk of the first half after picking up two fouls.
Czinano added 15 points, including a key basket in the paint with 1:10 remaining. Kate Martin scored 16 and McKenna Warnock scored 10. Iowa shot 54% for the game and 59% in the second half.
“We shot the ball very well tonight and I’m proud of that because of Colorado’s defense,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “We scored more points than anybody has all year against their defense. Their defense is very good, but we were still able to shoot over 50% from the field. But you do that when you’re having the balance of four people in double figures.”
Iowa (29-6) will face No. 5 seed Louisville in the regional final on Sunday. It’s the fifth Elite Eight appearance for the Hawkeyes, but their only Final Four appearance came in 1993.
Frida Formann led Colorado (25-9) with 21 points, but 19 of those came in the first half when her shooting carried the Buffaloes. But Formann was shut down in the second half and fouled out with 6:37 remaining.
“I had a lot of space in the first half and my teammates were just finding me. When it’s this stage my job is to shoot the ball so that’s what I’m gonna do,” Formann said. “And then they adjusted defensively and we’re a little tighter.”
Colorado pulled within 76-70 on Quay Miller’s 3-pointer with 4:16 remaining and the deficit was down to 78-74 after Jaylyn Sherrod’s steal and layup with 1:40 left. But that was the last push by the Buffaloes as Czinano scored in the paint and Iowa made seven free throws in the final minute.
Aaronette Vonleh added 13 points and Miller had 12 points and 14 rebounds for the Buffs.
“To be down twice by double digits against Iowa and to be able to fight back and continue to never wilt, never hang our heads and just keep playing, stay the course was awesome,” Colorado coach JR Payne said.
Colorado lingered far longer than expected, but it was Iowa’s run in the early stages of the third quarter and keyed by Clark that finally gave the Hawkeyes some cushion.
Clark started a string of 11 straight points for the Hawkeyes with a driving basket, added a 3-pointer off a loose ball and followed by a steal and layup that gave Iowa a 54-42 lead and forced Payne to burn two timeouts in 2 minutes.
Iowa eventually pushed the lead to 62-47 and Colorado could never catch up over the final 15 minutes leaving Clark and her team celebrating before the large Iowa contingent of fans walking off the court.
“I guess it was kind of our crowd. It felt like there was a lot of Hawk fans out there. I don’t know if they’ve traveled from the state of Iowa, from the Midwest and if they did, we really appreciate that. And if you’re from out here, we appreciate you coming too,” Clark said.
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