IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP)Iowa coach Lisa Bluder usually sits a player for most, if not all, of the remainder of the first half if she picks up two quick fouls.
That policy didn’t apply to Caitlin Clark in the No. 9 Hawkeyes’ season-opening 93-50 win over New Hampshire on Tuesday night.
Clark was called for two first-quarter fouls but wasn’t on the bench for long. She played almost 15 minutes in the first half despite picking up her second foul with nine seconds left in the opening quarter.
The Associated Press preseason All-American finished with 26 points, 17 in the first half.
Bluder said her decision had to do more with the score. The Hawkeyes led 31-11 at the end of the first quarter.
”I felt like, with the lead we had, it wasn’t as important to kind of play by that rule,” Bluder said. ”I felt like she was probably going to be sitting a lot at the end of the game.”
Clark led the nation in scoring and assists last season. The sophomore guard said she’s become a more complete player.
That’s an understatement, as far as New Hampshire coach Kelsey Hogan is concerned.
”Oh my gosh, she’s one of the best players in the country,” Hogan said. ”We haven’t played someone (of her) caliber in probably three years, so it was a great experience. She’s very hard to guard, for sure.”
It was Clark’s first regular-season game in front of a crowd after a season of empty arenas because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
”I’m one of those players who enjoys fans,” Clark said. ”They were pretty loud and energetic.”
Monika Czinano added 14 points for the Hawkeyes, continuing the inside-outside combination with Clark from last season.
Clark and Czinano were 1-2 in the nation in field goals last season, and both began this season with strong offensive performances.
Clark made 6 of 10 shots and added eight rebounds and six assists. Czinano, who led the nation in field-goal percentage last season after finishing second the season before, made 7 of 10 shots and added six rebounds.
Iowa’s defense, one of the worst in the nation last season, held New Hampshire to 29.7% shooting and forced 21 turnovers.
”I thought we did some good things on defense,” Bluder said. ”But the competition is going to get more difficult this week. And it’s something we have to keep focusing on.”
Bluder has never lost a season opener in her 22 seasons with the Hawkeyes, and this one wasn’t close. Iowa led 48-23 at halftime.
The Hawkeyes had 21 assists on 29 field goals.
”They’re such a great team,” Hogan said. ”We were trying to mix it up defensively, but they just flow so well.”
McKenna Warnock had 12 points and Tomi Taiwo added 10 for the Hawkeyes.
Amanda Torres and Sophia Widmeyer each had 13 points for New Hampshire.
FREE THROWS MATTER
The Hawkeyes were 27 of 28 from the free-throw line, something that didn’t surprise Clark.
”It’s something we take pride in,” Clark said.
Iowa was fourth in the nation in free-throw percentage at 80% last season.
”I mean, they’re free points. You’ve got to make them,” said Clark, who was 11 of 11 from the line. ”When you’re in big-game situations, those matter a lot.”
Iowa opens with seven games in 18 days, but the Hawkeyes won’t leave the state for their first five. They have four home games sandwiched around Sunday’s road game at Northern Iowa.
Iowa reached the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament last season with one of the nation’s best offenses and one of the worst defenses. It was a solid debut for the Hawkeyes, who were sloppy at times. They finished with 19 turnovers. ”We turned the ball over too many times tonight,” Bluder said.
New Hampshire, picked seventh in the America East preseason poll, lost its sixth consecutive season opener.
New Hampshire hosts Dartmouth on Saturday.
Iowa hosts Samford on Thursday.
More AP women’s college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/womens-college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25