Kaitlyn Clark, Iowa shakes off 'rust' to advance past Holy Cross in NCAA tournament

IOWA CITY — This wasn't the start to March Madness that Iowa or Caitlin Clark wanted, but in a month of survival and progress, the Hawkeyes did just that in a 91-65 win over Holy Cross in their NCAA Tournament first-round game Saturday.

“I think the first quarter kind of frustrated us probably all of us in some way,” Clark said. “I feel like this is the game you want to come out and dominate from the beginning because that's what fuels your career. As coach (Lisa Bluder) said, I think we probably played with a little rust.

It's been 13 days since the Hawkeyes hoisted the conference trophy following the Big Ten Tournament title game, and that nearly two-week break seemed especially evident early as No. 1 seed Iowa State was unable to overcome No. 16 seed Holy Cross.

The Crusaders came out with an aggressive, physical defense that filled the paint and led to early problems for the Hawkeyes. As a team, Iowa shot the ball well in the first quarter — 46 percent from the floor, including hitting 3 of 5 shots from beyond the arc — but Iowa's six turnovers (which Holy Cross turned into seven points) nullified any kind of potential the early lead had. It is possible to build it by hot firing.

By the second quarter, Iowa State began to settle into form, getting some consecutive defensive stops and cleaning up giveaways. The Hawkeyes outscored Holy Cross 25-9 in the second quarter, building an 18-point halftime lead that held through the rest of the game.

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This quarter in particular showed just how dangerous the Hawkeyes can be when they hit their stride. They came away with a 19-6 run that included five threes from five different players as Clark stretched the defense and got inside to get to the free throw line. As Iowa State put together back-to-back stops and clicked on offense, the lead seemed to swell immediately.

“I think that's one of the best aspects of this team, we're always in the game no matter the situation,” Clark said.

Despite Clark's slow start (2 of 8 from the floor in the first half) and six turnovers in the first half, the senior turned in her usual impressive performance, finishing the day with 27 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds (and none in the second half). transformations). Sixth-year senior Kate Martin recorded a double-double (15 points, 14 rebounds) while backup forward Addison O'Grady – who saw increased usage in the second half due to forward Hannah Stolke suffering from migraine symptoms – scored a season-high 14 Points from the bench.

In addition to Stoelke's presumed return, the Hawkeyes will also likely return fifth-year guard Molly Davis to the lineup for Monday's second-round game against West Virginia. Davis, who averaged six points, three assists and three rebounds per game this season, suffered a knee injury during the regular season finale. Having another key player to help Clark in the backcourt could be crucial Monday as the Mountaineers use a stifling defense and full-court pressure to force turnovers.

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(Photo: Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

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