March Madness: Yes, Caitlin Clark flirted with another triple-double, but Hannah Stuelke is Iowa’s X factor
Southeast Louisiana entered the NCAA Women’s Tournament with experience against the best. The Lady Lyons opened their season with a West Coast tour that included Utah finishing 2nd in Greenville 2 and returning to their home state to play LSU finishing 3rd in the same region.
“Each of them had a very important piece of the puzzle,” said Lions head coach Isla Gusardo. “Though, to be honest. We haven’t seen anything like Caitlin Clark.”
The No. 15 seeded Lions quickly fell behind No. 2 seed Iowa in the first round of the Seattle 4 Regional on Friday, eventually being eliminated 95-43 by a larger margin of defeat than Utah (37). , their previous worst result) and LSU (8). Clarke scored 12 of the Hawkeyes’ first 15 points and flirted with a triple-double that would have been her fifth this season and 11th overall.
The Iowa starters were substituted early in the fourth round due to the roar of another sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd. Tickets sold out in 52 minutes and resold for twice as much as the next most expensive first round site in Connecticut, according to ESPN. Iowa averaged 10,738 fans per game ahead of the tournament, which ranks second in the nation and sets a conference record set by Wisconsin (10,455 in 1997-98).
Clarke led all scorers with 26 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds in 29 minutes. It was her second tournament game in which she had at least 20 points and 10 assists, making her the only player with multiple assists.
“What can she do with the ball, from scoring, from taking advantage to passing,” Gusardo said. “I think that’s where we almost became [fans] on the side: “Oh, that was a great pass.” … What she can do is amazing.”
Iowa (27-6) relies heavily on Clark, a Player of the Year contender from nearby West Des Moines, but will only go for his teammates’ game. Two of her top three scoring games this season have been losing games, including a 45 against North Carolina State in December.
Much of that extra production falls to Monica Chinano, her fifth-year paint friend, who completes The Law Firm, as the duo is called. For the Hawkeyes to get past the second round where they were upset last season to reach the Final Four, which they only did once in 1993, they need the hometown X Factor, which resurfaced on Friday.
6-foot-2 freshman forward Hanna Stelke, who grew up less than 30 miles from the Iowa Arena, scored 13 points in 14 minutes on a 5-of-5 day, her fourth perfect score of the season and third 5-of-5 score.
“When we get her to play like this and she can come off the bench, it just gives us a completely different weapon that people have to plan for,” Clarke said. “I think Hannah played amazing today.”
Her performance was second only to Clarke and Chinano (22 points). They were the only three of the 14 Hawkeyes to see the floor and hit double digits. In the collective, the team made 60% from the court, including 40% from three-pointers, and 27 of 36 assists.
Addison O’Grady was also perfect (3 of 3) in six minutes off the bench and Clark stressed him after the game. Freshman quarterback Taylor McCabe received one of the team’s eight triples and drew a strong reaction from the public.
Stulke, the first Iowa player to win the Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year since Melissa Dixon in 2013, is averaging 7 points and 4.2 rebounds in 13.2 minutes per game. Her 61.1% field goal percentage is second only to Iowa’s Chinano players averaging over two shots per game and is ranked 28th in Division I. And her Player Effectiveness Rating (PER) of 25.8 is second only to Clarke (41 ) and Chinano (30.5).
“I think she’s a crowd favorite because she’s fun to watch,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. “The way she gets up off the floor, the way she runs across the floor, it’s beautiful.”
In the team’s biggest games, she was a clutch. Her other two perfect 5-for-5 games were in a tight loss to Indiana, the 1st seed in the tournament, and a Feb. 2 victory over Maryland, also the 2nd seed. She can replace Chinano well and has developed a close bond with Clarke on the court, which is critical to Iowa’s success next season with that longtime starting five disbanded after graduation. The only thing she needs to improve is her free throws, which are 45.8%.
Stulke’s five rebounds against Southeast Louisiana leveled O’Grady for the most off the bench, eight rebounds behind Chinano and McKenna Warnock, and would be decisive for the second-round game against No. 10 Georgia. Earlier in the day, the Bulldogs upset an injury-riddled Florida State team to face Iowa at 2:00 pm ET Sunday on ABC.
Georgia (22-11) holds the opposition at 58.3 points per game, is in the top 50 in the country and is active on the boards with a 37.3% offensive rebounding rate. Iowa ranks fifth in defensive rebounds (76%), while opponents rush to bounce back so as not to get burned by Clark’s assists all over the court.
Stelke has already faced quite a few of them, working her way to what they hope is Iowa’s Final Four conundrum.