Clark scores 32 as top seed Iowa holds on to beat West Virginia 64-54

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark reacts in the second half of a second-round college basketball game against West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament, Monday, March 25, 2024, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Caitlin Clark circled her home court one final time, making a heart-shaped symbol with her hands as the sellout crowd cheered.

Iowa’s superstar guard scored 32 points to help the No. 1 seed survive one of its worst offensive performances of the season to beat No. 8 seed West Virginia 64-54 on Monday night, advancing to the Sweet 16.

“I’ve always been one to play to the crowd,” Clark said. “That’s what I kind of do — an entertainer, in a way. I always want to get the crowd going.”

The Hawkeyes (31-4) advanced to play No. 5 seed Colorado in Saturday’s Albany 2 Regional semifinal.

It wasn’t easy to advance.

Iowa had a 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter before West Virginia scored 10 straight to tie the game. The teams traded points until Sydney Affolter’s three-point play with 2:03 to play — the Hawkeyes’ lone field goal of the fourth quarter — gave Iowa a 55-52 lead.

Clark and Hannah Stuelke closed the game with nine free throws to clinch the win. The Hawkeyes were 14 of 17 from the foul line in the final quarter while the Mountaineers took just one free throw.

“I think we used our crowd,” Clark said of the final stretch. “We gave up a 10-0 run to start the quarter, but this team was never flustered. It speaks to our experience. … Wanted to go out on a high note.”

Clark hit two free throws near the end of the game to break the single-season NCAA Division I scoring record of 1,109 held by Kelsey Plum.

Clark did not show her emotions as much as she did in Saturday’s 91-65 first-round win over Holy Cross, when she was constantly gesturing and occasionally arguing with the officials.

This game was not nearly as easy of a win, but it’s something the Hawkeyes have been used to in the second round in the last two NCAA Tournaments after losing to 10th seed Creighton in 2022 and making plays late to defeat Georgia last season.

“This is definitely up there with the best of them — mentally, emotionally, physically grinding out this out and getting a win,” Clark said.

Iowa came into the game leading the nation in scoring at 92.8 points per game, but the Hawkeyes were held to their lowest single-game point total this season. Iowa shot just 36.4% from the field, but held the Mountaineers to just 33.9% shooting, including 9 of 34 in 3-pointers.

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said winning a game with all of the offensive struggles was “typically not our style.”

“But we found a way,” she said. “I’m so proud of this team for being able to divert from what usually works for us and find a different way to win.”

The style of play was exactly what West Virginia, one of the nation’s best teams in forcing turnovers, wanted.

“Of course, I wish we could have made a few more shots, made a few more plays,” West Virginia coach Mark Kellogg said. “The game went about to script for us, as far as holding them down and giving us a chance late,”

“Our defense has been our identity all year,” guard JJ Quinerly said. “That just speaks to how tough and resilient we are.”

Iowa seemed to have control of the game after an 8-0 run over the final 1:25 of the third quarter gave the Hawkeyes a 48-38 lead. But West Virginia opened the fourth quarter with a 10-0 run to tie the game with 5:18 to play, setting up the final minutes.

It was clear from the start that this was going to be a game of defense. Iowa led just 26-24 at halftime, with both teams going through scoring droughts.

Affolter had 13 points for the Hawkeyes, while Stuelke added 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Quinerly led West Virginia (25-8) with 15 points. Kyah Watson had 13 points and Jayla Hemingway had 10 points.