Long before the Michigan women’s basketball team could get into any semblance of a rhythm, offensively or defensively, its game against Iowa was for all intents and purposes over.
This is in large part thanks to Iowa’s dominant 3-point shooting.
Each of the 16 3-pointers the Hawkeyes hit felt like a dagger to the heart, but none more so than one guard Caitlin Clark sank in the middle of the second quarter.
Double teamed by the Wolverines’ two best defenders — junior forward Naz Hillmon and graduate guard Akienreh Johnson — Clark had the ball where most would consider an unthinkable place to shoot a 3-pointer, several feet beyond the arc. With the poise of the veteran players defending her, Clark drained the long-range triple with ease.
This was just one of seven 3-pointers hit from the perimeter but it put a game already out of reach further into blowout territory.
The players on the court hardly showed their frustration about Clark and her teammates’ shooting prowess, but Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico voiced the team’s disbelief.
“There was only one play that she did that? It felt like five or six,” Barnes Arico said of Clark’s double-teamed 3. “Caitlin Clark is a ridiculous player. (It) didn’t seem like she even missed. She missed a couple, but I’m in disbelief because it felt like every time she shot the ball it was going in.”
Clark and the Hawkeyes did in fact miss some 3-point shots. In total the team shot 16-for-27 from beyond the arc. This 59.3% clip matched Iowa’s two-point field goal percentage — a phenomenon not seen often.
In the first quarter alone, Iowa hit five 3-pointers. Regardless of where a Wolverine defender was, someone else was receiving the ball in prime position to shoot a three.
“When the ball entered into the post we turned our head and when we turned our head they kicked it back to shooters,” Barnes Arico said. “We wanted to make sure we were giving help, but we didn’t want to turn our head. That’s something we didn’t do a great job of.”
The Hawkeyes’ hot start beyond the arc forced Michigan to take their focus out of the paint and guard the perimeter. This adjustment allowed center Monika Czinano to work inside against Hillmon. Splitting their focus between paint and perimeter defense proved difficult for the Wolverines as Czinano shot 7-for-8 from the floor, the majority in the paint.
“Later in the game, we said, ‘Play twos for threes. Give up twos not to give up the three,’ ” Barnes Arico said.
The sentiment was a good one, but one that didn’t play out in the Wolverines’ favor. Iowa’s 3-point shooting only got hotter in the second half. The Hawkeyes began the third quarter shooting 4-for-4 from downtown.
At different times throughout the game, nearly every Wolverine took their chance defending Clark. Johnson started the game guarding the point guard, but this left the paint more open. Junior wing Leigha Brown successfully guarded Clark one-on-one at times. But, no matter how aggressive the defense, Clark was either still able to make a shot or another player was open.
Evident by the four double-digit scorers, Iowa’s multi-faceted offensive attack was no match for Michigan’s defense.
Despite trailing by a substantial margin throughout the game, a Wolverine comeback was always feasible. Michigan was able to cut the deficit to 12 points a few times throughout the second half, but Iowa’s perimeter shooting sealed the game time and time again.
Iowa’s 3-point shooting percentage was good for second-best in the Big Ten coming into Thursday’s game. It’s reasonable to say that might improve after tonight’s showing.
Regardless of whether the Hawkeyes’ offensive performance was a fluke, Michigan’s 3-point defense needs to improve as they continue to face the top talent in the Big Ten.