March Madness: Yes, Kaitlin Clark Flirts With Another Triple-Double, But Hannah Stuelke Is Iowa’s X-Factor

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Southeastern Louisiana came into the NCAA Women’s Tournament with experience against the best. The Lady Lions opened their season on a West Coast road trip that included 2-seed Utah in Greenville 2, and returned to their home state to play 3-seed LSU in the same region.

“They each had a very important piece of their puzzle,” Lions head coach Ayla Guajardo said. “Ima be honest though. We ain’t seen nothing like Caitlin Clarke.”

The No. 15 seed Lions fell quickly behind No. 2 seed Iowa in the first round of the Seattle 4 Regional on Friday, eventually being eliminated from the tournament by a margin of 95-43, a larger loss to Utah (37, 37) than their previous worst) and LSU (8). Clark scored 12 of the Hawkeyes’ first 15 points and flirted with a triple-double, which would have been his fifth of the season and 11th overall.

The Iowa starters were booed out by another sold-out Carver-Hockey Arena crowd at the start of the fourth. Tickets sold out in 52 minutes and were reselling for double the next highest-priced first-round site in Connecticut, according to ESPN. Iowa drew 10,738 fans a game in the tournament, which ranks second in the nation and would set the conference mark held by Wisconsin (10,455 in ’97–98).

Clark led all scorers with 26 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds in 29 minutes. It was her second tournament game of at least 20 points and 10 assists, making her the only player with multiple.

“The advantage of having her is what she can do with the ball from scoring,” Guajardo said. “I think we’re almost there [fans] On the sidelines, ‘Oh, that was a great pass.’ … What she can do is amazing.”

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Iowa (27-6) relies heavily on Clark, a National Player of the Year contender from nearby West Des Moines, but he’ll only measure up to the game of his teammates. Two of his three highest-scoring games this season were losses, including 45 points against NC State in December.

Much of that supplemental production falls on Monica Cizzinano, her fifth-year partner in the paint, who completes the “law firm,” as the two are called. For the Hawkeyes to get past the second round, where they were upset last season, and make a Final Four run, which they’ve only done once in 1993, they need their hometown X-Factor that Friday. showed up again

Freshman 6-foot-2 forward Hannah Stuelke, who lives less than 30 miles from Iowa’s arena, scored 13 points in 14 minutes on a 5-of-5 day, her fourth perfect outing of the season and third 5-of-5. .

Hannah Stulke of Iowa replaces the Hawkeyes name tag on the bracket after defeating the Southeastern Louisiana Lions 95-43 during the first round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on March 17, 2023 in Iowa City, Iowa.  (Rebecca Gratz / NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Hannah Stulke of Iowa puts on the Hawkeyes name tag on a bracket after defeating the Southeastern Louisiana Lions 95-43 during the first round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament at Carver-Hockey Arena on March 17, 2023 in Iowa City, Iowa. (Rebecca Gratz / NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Clarke said, “When we’ve got her playing like that and she can come off the bench, it gives us a whole ‘other weapon’ that guys have to plan for.” “I think Hannah played awesome tonight.”

His scoring is behind only Clarke and Cizzinano (22 points). He was the only three of the 14 Hawkeyes who saw the floor who scored in double figures. The team was a collective 60% from the floor, including 40% from 3-point range, and assisted on 27 of 36 shots.

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Addison O’Grady was also perfect (3-of-3) in six minutes off the bench and was highlighted by Clarke after the game. Freshman guard Taylor McCabe had one of the team’s eight 3’s and earned a rapturous reaction from the crowd.

Stulke, the first Iowa player since Melissa Dixon in 2013 to win Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year, is averaging 7 points and 4.2 rebounds in 13.2 minutes per game. His 61.1% field-goal clip ranks only Iowa players averaging two more shots a game than Cizzinano and ranks 28th in Division I. And his player efficiency rating (PER) of 25.8 trails only Clark (41) and Cizzinano (30.5).

“I think she’s a crowd favorite because she’s fun to watch,” said Iowa head coach Lisa Bludger. “The way she gets off the floor, the way she runs on the floor, it’s beautiful.”

In the team’s biggest games, she has been clutch. Two of his other 5 out of 5 games were in a tight loss to 1-seed Indiana in the tournament and a February 2 victory over 2-seed Maryland. She can sub well for Czinano and has forged a close on-court connection with Clarke, who will be key to Iowa’s success next season when it breaks through the long-standing five-start graduation . One thing he needs to improve on is his free throw percentage, which is 45.8%.

Stuelke’s five rebounds against Southeastern Louisiana tied O’Grady off the bench, behind eight rebounds each from Cizziano and McKenna Warnock, and would be crucial for the second-round game against No. 10 Georgia. The Bulldogs upset an injured Florida State team to face Iowa at 2 p.m. ET Sunday on ABC.

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Georgia (22-11) holds opponents to 58.3 points per game, top 50 in the nation, and is active on the board with a 37.3% offensive rebounding rate. Iowa ranks fifth in defensive rebounds (76%), while hustling opponents to get back so they don’t get burned in transition by Clarke’s full-court assist.

Stulke has already found himself on the receiving end of a few of those, hoping to make his way into Iowa’s Final Four puzzle.