SAN ANTONIO — A showdown of two of the nation’s top-10 scorers was nearly over before it really got going.
Central Michigan star Micaela Kelly picked up her third foul with 1:11 left in the first quarter on an unfortunate trip near midcourt. And the nation’s leading scorer, Caitlin Clark, and her Iowa teammates took advantage.
Clark finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, Monika Czinano also scored 23 points, and No. 5 seed Iowa beat 12th-seeded Central Michigan 87-72 on Sunday in the first round of the women’s NCAA Tournament.
“I thought that was the difference in the game to be very honest,” Central Michigan coach Heather Oesterle said. “I try not to complain to the officials, but when you take my best player out with three fouls in the first quarter, that obviously affected us.”
Kelly had eight points in six minutes but Clark combined with Kate Martin for 23 points and five 3-pointers in the opening 10 minutes to give the Hawkeyes a 27-20 lead.
Kelly, ranking seventh at 23.9 points, finished with 23 points and four 3-pointers in 27 minutes.
“That was big because she’s obviously their No. 1 scorer and someone that they look for, somebody that’s had a lot of experience,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “So yeah when we got her into foul trouble I thought that was tremendous and put her on the bench.”
Iowa (19-9) advances to play the winner of the Kentucky-Idaho State game on Tuesday.
Clark had 15 points and five assists through the first 14 minutes — before picking up her second foul with 3:33 in the half on a charging call. Iowa was comfortably ahead at the break 48-37
Clark was held to two points in the third quarter but teammate McKenna Warnock, who was scoreless in the first half, scored 11 straight Iowa points — capped by a 3-pointer to give the Hawkeyes a 63-52 lead. Clark scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to start Iowa’s 8-3 run to build an 18-point lead.
“I honestly wasn’t that nervous, a little before tipoff maybe a little nerves but more than anything I was just anxious and excited to play,” Clark said. “I think it helped we had the 11 a.m. game so I didn’t have to sit and wait around all day. ... Now we can relax the rest of the day.”
Warnock secured her third straight double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds for Iowa. Czinano, who set the Big Ten Tournament record with 107 points over four games, was 10 of 18 from the field as Iowa shot 46.2%. Martin matched Clark with three 3-pointers, and scored 13 points — all in the first quarter.
Molly Davis, ranking 22nd at 20.9 points, was just 7 of 18 from the field for 18 points with six rebounds and five steals for Central Michigan (18-9).
“Our team, it runs around Micaela and it runs around Molly Davis and when one of them is out, we really struggle,” Oesterle added.
Kelly made two 3-pointers in the opening four minutes of the third quarter, and Kyra Bussell added a putback to pull Central Michigan within 54-48. But that’s as close as the Chippewas would get in the second half.