EVANSTON, Illinois — At the start of his postgame press conference on Saturday, head coach Joe McKeown was asked what it took for his team to defeat Iowa, a squad that had beaten his Wildcats all but once in their last 12 meetings.
“I didn’t know that,” replied McKeown. “But hey, they’ve been really good for a long time.”
Perhaps the Hawkeyes’ recent dominance of Northwestern was more of a storyline in the eyes of the reporters covering the game than it was to those participating in it, but regardless, McKeown seemed happy to have gotten a 77-67 win against a talented team in what he called a “typical Big Ten game.”
The Wildcats’ success started on the defensive end, where their main challenge was stopping Caitlin Clark, Iowa’s star freshman and Wooden Award contender, who came into the game averaging 27.6 points per game and had been the Hawkeyes’ leading scorer in eight of their nine contests before they traveled to Evanston.
“She is a terrific player, and she’s off to a great start,” said McKeown. “I thought we kept her in front of us, tried to frustrate her a little bit, and when she’d beat one player, we always had someone there to jump in and switch out.”
Ultimately, the ‘Cats’ collective approach to guarding the dynamic scorer was effective. Clark hit only three of her 12 attempts from the field, including one of five attempts from three-point range. She fouled out in the fourth quarter with only eight points, finishing with a season-low by far.
Aside from forcing a poor performance out of Clark, the Wildcats took away Iowa’s biggest weapon as a team by successfully contesting their attempts from beyond the arc, where they’ve hit the 12th most shots in the nation this season. On the season, the Hawkeyes have hit 38.6% of their three-point shots. On Saturday, they were good on only 26.3% of attempts.
“We took away what they love to do, and that’s shooting threes,” said junior guard Veronica Burton. “We were able to minimize those, and I think that really helped us at the end of the day because that’s what Iowa does. They have so many shooters on their team.”
Conversely, Northwestern’s biggest offensive strength was its own three point shooting. The Wildcats made 46.7% of their three-point attempts, including three makes from senior guard Jordan Hamilton. She led the team with a season-high 19 points.
Heading into Saturday’s game, Hamilton had been experiencing an offensive regression this season, averaging 8.3 points a game and shooting only 35.4% from the field.
“I’ve kind of had not the best shooting record this year,” she said postgame. “But I know that I’m very capable of making those shots. I’ve always known that. I’ve been in the gym constantly, just trying to see what it is about my shot that’s not working in games.”
McKeown agreed that Hamilton’s belief in herself was at the root of her success.
“She’s playing with a lot of confidence right now,” said the 13th-year head coach. “She shot the ball with a lot of confidence, and that was important for us. Somebody had to step up with them shading Pulliam the way they did and trying to take Burton out, and Jordan did a terrific job.”
Aside from getting their first win over Iowa in four years, the Wildcats’ victory on Saturday continued to move them back in the right direction as they get deeper into their Big Ten title defense. They now sit at 4-2 in conference play on a two-game winning streak, a far cry from their stature after a two-game skid last week. As they prepare to take on the rest of the conference, McKeown said their experience containing a star like Clark and beating a quality team like the Hawkeyes will help them down the stretch.
“There’s a lot of great players in our league, and each week we’re going to see them,” said McKeown. “This was a good week for us.”