MINNEAPOLIS (AP)Though the box-and-one defense Maryland sent at Caitlin Clark was effective enough to limit the Iowa superstar to 7-of-18 shooting, there was a costly consequence for the Terrapins.
Gabbie Marshall and the rest of the Hawkeyes just kept making them pay – serving as a warning to future tournament foes.
Clark had 22 points and nine assists, Marshall and McKenna Warnock each scored 21 points, and seventh-ranked Iowa made a season-high 15 shots from 3-point range to fuel an 89-84 victory over fifth-ranked Maryland in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament on Saturday.
“Our circle’s tight, just because we’ve been playing together so long. That helps a lot in March,” Marshall said.
The defending conference tournament champion Hawkeyes (25-6) will play 14th-ranked Ohio State in the championship game on Sunday afternoon. The Buckeyes overcame a 24-point deficit to beat second-ranked Indiana, the regular season champion, in the other semifinal.
Monika Czinano had a hard-earned 15 points and eight rebounds while drawing plenty of attention herself underneath, paving the way for Marshall to go 7 for 13 from deep. Warnock was 3 for 8.
“I think our confidence level in what we have now is really good, so we’ll welcome any defense that any team wants to bring at us,” Clark said.
Abby Meyers and Diamond Miller each scored 21 points for the Terrapins (25-6), who handed the Hawkeyes their worst loss of the season – 96-68 at Maryland – just two weeks ago.
“I think what we need to get better at is digging deep in those moments when it really matters,” Meyers said, “and sticking to our principles and really trying to get those important plays we know can make a difference.”
Indiana remains in line for one of the remaining No. 1 seeds behind defending national champion South Carolina, and Iowa and Maryland are also in the mix.
“I didn’t really want to talk about it with them,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “Right now, you don’t want to put any added pressure on them. They’re playing for a championship tomorrow.”
Miller’s bounce pass on the break to Faith Masonius set up the tying layup for Maryland with 2:19 to go. Clark’s NBA-range shot rimmed out, but Warnock got the rebound and fed Marshall for her seventh 3-pointer of the game and the lead for good with 1:44 left.
Miller missed a 3-point try from a crowded corner. Then Clark fed a high-low pass to Czinano, who came back for a fifth season for just this kind of March madness, for the layup to make it 84-79.
Lavender Briggs hit a 3-pointer for the Terrapins to trim the lead back to one point with 25 seconds to go. But Warnock made four free throws over the balance of the game to ice it.
The Hawkeyes enjoyed another home-like atmosphere, after their fans filled up the lower bowl and howled for every made basket and against every unfavorable call.
The attendance for the afternoon at Target Center was announced at 9,375, the second-largest session in Big Ten Tournament history. The record (9,417) was set at the 2014 championship game in Indianapolis.
The game was physical and intense, just like the Ohio State-Indiana matchup before it. Miller and Sellers both left briefly with minor injuries before returning. After Miller missed the first of her two free throws in the first quarter, the Iowa crowd – still mad about the foul call – jeered loudly. After Miller hit a 3-pointer a few minutes later, she motioned to the Hawkeyes fans in return as they complained for a technical foul on the Maryland star.
“It shows that we can still battle with them, even when their fans were taunting us, saying all this stuff, craziness, but we just still stayed strong,” said Miller, who went 12 for 16 from the free-throw line. “At the end of the day they won this game, but I still feel like we’re the better team.”
Marshall, one of four senior starters on the Hawkeyes, began the season slowly and struggled with her confidence in her outside shot. She went 12 for 23 from 3-point range in two games against Maryland in the last two weeks.
“I couldn’t be happier for somebody,” Bluder said.
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