IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa coach Lisa Bluder didn't want her players to be too hard on themselves after their first loss of the season.
After all, she said, they hadn't been together for so long after a COVID-19 outbreak put the program on pause, and they shouldn't have expected to be at top form.
It was like an orchestra, she said.
“You have two practices in 17 days, you're not going to sound your best,” Bluder said.
The No. 9 Hawkeyes seemed more in tune in an 88-61 win over Michigan State on Sunday, the 800th victory of Bluder's coaching career.
Caitlin Clark had her second triple-double of the season with 24 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds, and McKenna Warnock had 21 points to lead Iowa (5-1, 1-0 Big Ten).
Monika Czinano added 19 points as the Hawkeyes bounced back from Thursday’s 79-64 loss at Duke, their first game since Nov. 17 after COVID-19 issues forced the cancellation of three games. Iowa had just two full-squad practices before playing the Blue Devils, and Bluder said it was “crazy to think” the Hawkeyes would play well there.
But she knew what she saw on Sunday was what she had been seeing all season, when Iowa won its first four games by an average of 30.3 points.
“I didn’t know how long it was going to take us to get that back,” Bluder said. “But today, especially in the second half, I thought, ‘Iowa’s back.’”
“I don’t think any of us were worried,” Clark said. “We know what we’re capable of doing.”
Iowa outscored the Spartans (6-4, 0-1) 33-11 in the third quarter after leading 39-37 at halftime. The Hawkeyes held Michigan State to four field goals in the quarter and shot 68.8% from the field. Iowa had 13 fast-break points in the quarter.
“Our transition defense, all of a sudden, we just stopped doing it,” Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant said. “I thought Czinano got away from us in there. And Caitlin Clark making those decisions, she’s just hard to stop. If you’re going to beat them, you have to match them with their scoring. I think we can do that, but people have to make shots.”
“When our offense flows like it should, I think we’re pretty unstoppable,” Clark said.
Clark, a sophomore guard who was an Associated Press preseason All-American, is averaging 21.7 points this season, but has struggled with her shooting. She was 9 of 25 from the field, 2 of 10 on 3-pointers, in this game and in her last three games has gone 20 of 61 from the field and 4 of 29 from long range.
“I don’t think she played great, you know what I mean?” Merchant said. “That’s what I told my players — that kid is so good. You look at her line. She didn't shoot the ball well, but gets 24 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists. That’s impressive.”
Nia Clouden led Michigan State with 18 points, snapping her streak of six consecutive games with 20 or more points. Deedee Hagemann added 12 points and Tamara Farquhar had 10.
Bluder, in her 22nd season as Iowa’s coach, is 800-377 in her career and 444-235 at Iowa. She is one of six active Division I coaches, and one of 14 overall, with 800 or more wins.
“I would have liked to have won at Duke,” she said, laughing. “It’s special doing it on your home court. You’re just grateful you get to do this. How many people get to do what they love every day? It’s amazing.”
“I think she’s the best of all time,” Clark said. “She downplays this, but she deserves it.”
It was the Big Ten opener for both teams, but it was the only game between the Hawkeyes and Spartans this season. Iowa has a 41-30 lead in the series.
The Hawkeyes might be able to stay in the top 10 in the AP poll after responding impressively after the loss at Duke. Michigan State, which opened the season with four consecutive wins, has lost three of its last five.
Michigan State: Hosts Illinois on Thursday.
Iowa: At Iowa State on Wednesday.
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25