The past two games the Gophers women's basketball team has learned to come out and throw the first punch.
Wednesday in Iowa the Gophers moved the ball, defended in the post, limited the Hawkeyes to one shot most of the time and built a 16-point lead late in the second quarter.
But it wasn't enough.
Aggressive in the first half, the Gophers were outscored by 23 points in the second half and lost 92-79 in Iowa City.
"You have to stick with the game plan when they punch back,'' Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen said. "It's the toughness to respond when they start pressuring you, start running in transition, start making shots. We have to find the mental toughness to stick with it.''
The high-flying Hawkeyes (8-1, 4-1 in the Big Ten) were held to 38 points in the first half, but came out and outscored the Gophers 30-13 in the third quarter.
Leading the way for Iowa was the conference's leading scorer, Caitlin Clark, who made 12 of 19 shots and went 5-for-9 on threes. She scored 37 points, had 11 rebounds and five assists. She and all-conference post player Monika Czinano (Watertown-Mayer) — who scored 15 of her 19 points in the second half — were too much for Minnesota.
"In the second half we kind of started off slow,'' said Sara Scalia, her right shoulder encased in ice. She separated it against Wisconsin on Sunday and hadn't practiced since. But, after taking a numbing injection, she was able to play Wednesday, scoring 18 points.
"An absolute warrior,'' Whalen said. "Not many players would have played tonight. She did. If we continue to have players with hearts as big as hers, we'll be just fine.''
The Gophers took a 16-point lead on Jasmine Powell's three-pointer — she had 18 points — with 3:46 left in the first half. But Iowa ended the half on a 7-1 run to pull within 10. Then Iowa's Megan Meyer hit an uncontested three to start the second half and the Hawkeyes were on a roll. Iowa, starting with that 7-1 run, outscored Minnesota 45-14 to take a 76-61 lead on Czinano's free throw with 6:53 left to play.
"We got down in our energy,'' said Kadi Sissoko, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds for her second straight double-double. "We really need to work on how we're coming off the first half. We have a tendency where our energy goes down.''
It was a classic tale of two halves. In the first, the Gophers shot 53.3% and made half of their 16 three-pointers, had only four turnovers and had seven second-chance points. Second half? The Gophers shot 36%, went 3-of-14 on threes, had nine turnovers and no second-chance points.
"When we go away from what's working, it usually doesn't go well for us,'' Whalen said. "We have to figure out how to come out after halftime with energy, discipline and determination.''
The Star Tribune did not travel for this game. This article was written using the television broadcast and video interviews after the game.