Indiana shuts down Caitlin Clark. Masterpiece could be start of something special

BLOOMINGTON – Assembly Hall was full nearly an hour before tipoff because of Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, but it stayed full well past the final horn because of IU seniors Sara Scalia and Mackenzie Holmes. The crowd was still here, singing the alma mater with the IU women’s basketball team, because of Yarden Garzon and Chloe Moore-McNeil and the rest of coach Teri Moren’s team, which badgered Clark into her worst game of the season and scored with impunity and blew out the No. 4 Hawkeyes 86-69.

The traveling circus that is the Caitlin Clark Show — Iowa has sold out or broken the arena attendance record (or both) in 31 of 33 games this season — presents an opportunity, and the Hoosiers crushed it Thursday night. They were coming off a dispiriting 22-point loss at Illinois on Monday, and Moren said her team “wanted to make this thing right tonight.”

IU made it right by making the game go horribly wrong for Clark, who posted a near triple-double — 24 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists — but was 8-for-26 from the floor overall, 3-for-16 on 3-pointers and even 5-for-8 from the line. She shot an airball, had five turnovers and was frequently shaking her head in frustration as shot after shot rolled off the rim.

“Oh my God!” she shouted in the fourth quarter after her step-back 3-pointer against Moore-McNeil rattled around the rim before bouncing away.

QUIZ TIME: Love her or hate her, what kind of Caitlin Clark fan are you?

The Hoosiers, wearing those controversial “Fear of God” alternate uniforms specially made by Adidas, were holy hell on Clark. Moore-McNeil and Scalia spent most of the game in her face, and Holmes was waiting in the lane when Clark got there. The IU defense had an enforcer vibe going, with Holmes blocking shots and looming over fallen Hawkeyes and Moore-McNeil hounding Clark into mistakes, like the behind-the-back she tossed nonchalantly in the second quarter. Clark had gotten past Moore-McNeil but didn’t realize the object in her rear-view mirror was closer than it appeared, because Moore-McNeil was there to steal the pass and go the other way, feeding Garzon for a 3-pointer for a 26-22 early lead in the second quarter.

For Iowa, and for Clark, that was the beginning of the end.

For the IU women? This could be the start of something special.

If you’re wondering how steadily, reliably awesome this IU program has become, including a No. 1 seed in the 2023 NCAA tournament, here’s your answer: The Hoosiers entered the game ranked 16th nationally with a 21-4 record, 12-3 in the Big Ten, and weren’t thought to be having a special season. Not until Thursday night.

“We needed this,” Moren was saying afterward.

Caitlin Clark Circus pulls into Bloomington

Outside Assembly Hall was a row of garbage cans, set up to accommodate the thousands of fans who started lining up almost 12 hours before tipoff. It was people as far as the eye could see, but before that it was garbage cans as far as the eye could see — and by tipoff they were full of the damndest things:

Folding chairs.

“People were bringing the chairs to get their place in line,” says Jeremy Gray, the voice of Assembly Hall, “and then throwing them away.”

This wasn’t a quest for tickets, because the game had long been sold out. This was a quest for the best sightlines, because when are we going to see Caitlin Clark again? Hang on, answer coming in a minute. For now, Gray’s standing in front of the scorer’s table almost an hour before tipoff, looking around the nearly full arena, and apologizing for what he’s about to say.

“I hate to compare this to another athlete,” he says of the Caitlin Clark effect, “but there’s a Tiger Woods element to this. And then...”

Gray pauses to gesture around the arena, then continues.

“IU has spent 10 years building one of the top fan bases in women’s college basketball,” he says, “and today it’s all come together.”

Indeed, IU entered the game sixth in the country in attendance at 9,303 per game this season, and all those folks — plus thousands more who came for the circus — made it difficult for Iowa’s famously well-traveled fan base to find tickets. The Hoosiers held a white-out game, the sea of white T-shirts providing stark relief for the occasional Iowa fan wearing gold or black, and it served to show just how few Iowa fans were here. They had four rows of bleachers behind the Iowa bench — parents and school employees, mainly — and then sporadic dots around the arena.

One such dot was sitting behind a basket. She’s wearing a black T-shirt with the words Iowa Nana on the front. Anne Cody is sitting alone at the moment, but only because her husband, Mark, has gone off somewhere. He’s a retired attorney, so he’s probably somewhere causing problems. You know, lawyers. As for Anne, she’s beaming because she’s an Iowa grad but this is going to be her first time to see Caitlin Clark in person. They live in Michigan, and Iowa doesn’t play at Ann Arbor or East Lansing this season.

Anne and Mark’s son lives in Bloomington, which shows the power of Caitlin Clark: It took her to get the Codys, who are both retired, to get off their rumps and go see their son, Kevin! That’s how I’m putting it, anyway. Kevin surprised them with the T-shirts, and this game — this season, this Caitlin Clark Circus — allowed Anne to claim victory in a decades-old argument with her husband.

“Put this in there,” she tells me, pointing to my notepad. “We’ve been married 46 years, and about 30 years ago we had an argument about which sport was more exciting — men’s or women’s college basketball. This season (Mark’s) been glued to the Iowa women much more than the Iowa men. I remind him of that. I won that argument.”

I tell Anne Cody about my coming victory, that the Indiana Fever hold the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 WNBA draft, and that I fully expect Clark to turn pro, come to Indianapolis and invigorate Downtown Indianapolis for the next decade.

“Oh,” she says, “you are lucky.”

Yes, but so is Jacey Bell, a freshman at Mooresville High. She’s sitting by herself behind the IU bench, the only Iowa fan in sight, easy to identify in her Nike sweatshirt that says You break it, you own it, a reference to Clark becoming the all-time scoring leader in Division I women’s basketball.

“I tried 18 different websites and they were all sold out,” she says of her search for the sweatshirt. “I finally found one, but they were like $300. It was insane.”

The lucky part?

“I ordered it a month ago,” she says. “It came today.”

Just in time for the Caitlin Clark Show, which was upstaged by Scalia, who outscored her with 25 points, and by Holmes, who matched her with 24, and by Garzon (15 points, five rebounds, five assists) and even Moore-McNeil, who scored just six points but added five rebounds, five assists and most of IU’s defense on Clark.

And IU’s defense, like this crowd, was ferocious.

IU women use Iowa as canvas to paint masterpiece

First question to Caitlin Clark after the game: What did IU do to make today so difficult?

“Being physical,” she said, “face-guarding me, denying the ball, threw a lot of people at me. Very physical. I think that was the main thing — pushed me off my spots, got me a little deeper than I wanted to be. A little box-and-one. I’d say physicality and denying me the ball. Yeah.”

Moore-McNeil was stifling, Scalia wasn’t much more polite, and the crowd was all in Clark’s business. They taunted her the rest of the game for her second-quarter air ball — sorry, for the AIR BALL, AIR BALL, AIR BALL — and IU students were ready for the scoreboard camera to find them.

First it was an IU male student holding up a whiteboard with the two categories he was using to monitor Clark’s game: Flops and Whines. The crowd loved it, but loved even more the IU female student who had her phone ready, with a series of emojis that looked something like this:


Crying baby face


You fluent in emoji-speak? That cellphone was calling Clark a baby, though Clark was gracious after the game.

“This is a great environment to come and play basketball,” she said. “Their crowd was incredible.”

So was their team. Scalia was the efficient scorer from distance — 25 points on 14 shots — while Holmes was even more efficient on the inside: 24 points on 11-for-16 shooting.

After the game, Iowa coach Lisa Bluder was all “Scalia, Scalia, Scalia.”

“We didn’t have an answer for Sara Scalia tonight,” Bluder said. “She was really good — she was really good.”

Indiana's Sara Scalia (14) celebrates as she checks out of the game during the second half of the Indiana versus Iowa women's basketball game at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.
Indiana's Sara Scalia (14) celebrates as she checks out of the game during the second half of the Indiana versus Iowa women's basketball game at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024.

Bluder kept going, giving credit to IU and noting Moren’s defensive tweaks from the first meeting — an 84-57 Iowa romp in January — “frustrated Caitlin at times,” but the Iowa coach kept coming back to one player.

“Again,” Bluder said, “we did not have an answer for Scalia.”

And so it goes, Caitlin Clark’s latest visit to Bloomington shifting from a story about her traveling circus to an IU women’s basketball team that registered its biggest win of the season on the biggest stage. Peacock streamed the game to a nationwide audience that surely included NCAA tournament selection officials, and before Thursday night the Hoosiers were merely among the teams in the mix to become a hosting seed, meaning the first two NCAA tournament games in Bloomington.

After Thursday night? They now have the inside track to two NCAA tournament games at Assembly Hall, where the IU women are 14-0 this season after turning the Caitlin Clark Circus into the grandest night of what still could be IU’s grandest season yet.

Find IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at @GreggDoyelStar or at

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Caitlin Clark, Iowa Hawkeyes shut down by Indiana in upset on the road