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IOWA CITY — It wasn’t the start to March Madness that Iowa or Kathleen Clark wanted, but in a month of survival and development, the Hawkeyes won 91-65 at Holy Cross in their first NCAA Tournament appearance. Round-robin Saturday.

“The first quarter kind of frustrating, I think probably all of us in some way,” Clark said. “I feel like this is a game where you want to come out on top and dominate because that’s what fuels your run. “I think we probably played a little rusty,” coach (Lisa Bluder) said.

It’s been 13 days since the Hawkeyes won the conference title after the Big Ten Tournament title, and the two-week layoff seemed to be especially noticeable as early No. 1-seed Iowa simply couldn’t shake No. 16-seed. Holy Cross.

The Crusaders came out with a physical, aggressive defense that packed the paint and gave the Hawkeyes early trouble. As a team, Iowa shot the ball well in that opening quarter — 46 percent from the floor, including 3-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc — but Iowa’s six turnovers (which Holy Cross converted into seven points) negated any potential. An early leader who can build a hot shot.

In the second quarter, Iowa began to settle into form, getting some defensive stops and clearing giveaways. The Hawkeyes outscored Holy Cross 25-9 in the second quarter, building an 18-point halftime lead and held on for the rest of the period.

That quarter showed just how dangerous the Hawkeyes can be, especially when they hit their feet. They went on a 19-6 run that included five triples from five different players as Clark worked to stretch the defender and get inside. The lead seemed to balloon immediately as Iowa strung together a series of stops and the offense clicked.

“I think that’s the best part of this team, no matter what the situation is, we’re always in the game,” Clarke said.

Despite Clark’s slow start (2 of 8 in the first half) and six turnovers in the first half, the senior was impressive as usual, finishing the day with 27 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds (and no second half turnovers). Sixth-year senior Kate Martin had a double-double (15 points, 14 rebounds), while forward Addison O’Grady — who started in the second half with starting forward Hannah Stulke suffering migraine symptoms — had a game-high 14 points. Points from the seat.

In addition to Stulke’s expected return, the Hawkeyes could have fifth-year senior guard Molly Davis back in the lineup for Monday’s second-round game against West Virginia. Davis, who averaged six points, three assists and three rebounds this season, suffered a knee injury in the regular season finale. Having another freshman to help Clark in the backcourt could be crucial as the Mountaineers use suffocation and full-court pressing defense.

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(Photo: Matthew Holst/Getty Images)