Indiana hasn’t forgotten about Caitlin Clark’s buzzer-beater.
It’s hard to ignore a shot replayed as frequently as that one, and when it stung as much as it did for the Hoosiers.
Mackenzie Holmes stepped to the free-throw line with 0.8 seconds remaining during Indiana women’s basketball’s game at Iowa last February, and the forward knocked down both shots to give IU an 85-83 lead. Despite having already secured the outright Big Ten title, this game was meaningful for the Hoosiers.
The referees put the clock at 1.5 seconds during a timeout in between Holmes’ foul shots, and then Iowa called timeout to advance the ball. And that was enough time for Clark to come around a Monika Czinano screen and drill a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.
The Hoosiers return to Carver-Hawkeye Arena this weekend for the first time since that moment. No. 14 Indiana (14-1, 5-0 Big Ten) takes on No. 3 Iowa (16-1, 5-0) on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on FOX, with Gus Johnson on the call.
During a media availability over Zoom on Friday, IU head coach Teri Moren said her team hasn’t openly discussed the buzzer-beater, but she’s second-guessed some of her coaching decisions on the decisive play and is sure the players have similar thoughts. But she knows they can’t change the past, and are locked in on this year’s game.
“We’ve always had great battles when we go over there and play. It’s two really, really great teams. And my sense is that it’s going to be another great battle between two really good teams,” Moren said. “Whether it (the buzzer-beater) gives them extra motivation, I don’t know. I just think the motivation of what we’re trying to do in terms of our goals, they’re the next team that’s on our schedule that we have to go and figure out a way to beat.”
Weather concerns are casting a shadow over the highly-anticipated game. A massive blizzard is rolling through the whole state on Friday into Saturday, creating travel complications for Indiana. The Hoosiers were initially flying to Iowa at 5:30 p.m. ET Friday, to arrive more than 24 hours before tip off on Saturday. They attempted to reschedule the flight for Thursday to beat the storm, but the airline IU charters flights through didn’t have a plane or a crew available. So IU moved up its flight to 2:30 p.m. Friday, but had to postpone that flight until Saturday at 10 a.m.
Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder, during her Friday press conference, said her program contacted the Hoosiers on Thursday to make sure they knew about the storm, in case they wanted to rearrange travel plans. The Hawkeyes moved up their travel to West Lafayette, Ind. to beat an expected storm ahead of their game at Purdue on Wednesday. But they had four days between games to accommodate that; Indiana had just two days between games this time.
“There’s just so much you can control. We cannot control the weather and what it’s going to do,” Moren said, before the flight was postponed. “We’ll be light on our feet, and we’ll do what we have to do. But what we will not do is we will not get in any aircraft if it’s unsafe. I can promise you that.”
IU enters this game having won 13 in a row. Iowa’s on a seven-game winning streak.
Clark leads the country in scoring (31 points per game), and is second in assists per game (7.7). She commits 4.2 turnovers per game as well, though that’s at least partially a byproduct of one of the highest usage rates in the country. She’s made 15 more 3-pointers than anyone in the country, through Thursday’s games. Chloe Moore-McNeil, whom Moren said is “good to go” after tweaking her ankle against Penn State on Wednesday, will draw the difficult assignment, knowing it’s more about limiting Iowa’s phenom than stopping her.
But the inside battle has typically been very important in deciding these IU-Iowa matchups. Monika Czinano gave Holmes a tough fight when they faced off, but Czinano graduated last year. So Holmes and Lilly Meister will now compete with sophomore Hannah Stuelke, last year’s Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year. She’s averaging 13.8 points and 7.1 rebounds per game while shooting 64.8 percent from the field this season.
“Stuelke is a great athlete,” Moren said. “Her rim-running is something that we’re going to have to be prepared for. She probably has better ball skills than Czinano had when you bring her out on the perimeter. So our ability to be able to sit down and guard her off the bounce from the high post area, Mack will have to do without fouling, Lilly will have to do without fouling. She’s physical. And so she’s a challenge.”
Indiana-Iowa has become one of the premier women’s basketball rivalries in the Big Ten, and really, around the country. The programs know each other very well, and there’s some distaste on both sides — not in an ugly or unsportsmanlike way, but it intensifies the matchup and raises the stakes when they face off.
And it’s led to some memorably close affairs over the last few seasons, even before Clark’s buzzer-beater. IU scored 42 points in the fourth quarter on Ali Patberg’s senior day in February 2022 and fell just short of a miraculous comeback. The Hawkeyes followed that with wins in Iowa City and in the Big Ten Tournament championship game in Indianapolis. And those disappointments led to the frenzied scene in Bloomington when the Hoosiers defeated the Hawkeyes last season.
Indiana’s last six games against Iowa have been decided by single digits. IU is 6-9 against the Hawkeyes since Moren became IU’s head coach in 2014.
“I mean, it’s become a rivalry. That’s what it’s become.” Moren said after IU’s game Wednesday. “It’ll be a game that we’ll look forward to. I think our kids will be excited about playing on that stage against a really good team.”
Update: Indiana’s flight has landed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa as expected on Saturday morning.