IOWA CITY, Iowa — The weather was perfect Sunday for a game at Kinnick Stadium this time of year.
When players took the field just before 2 p.m., it was a crisp 54 degrees and mostly cloudy — aside from the brief splashes of sunshine that washed over the field in intermittent waves — with 14 mph winds from the northwest and gusts up to 23 mph.
These weren’t bad conditions for a football game, but that’s not why fans were in attendance. A record-setting crowd of 55,646 showed up to one of the state’s premier sporting venues for a charity exhibition women’s basketball game between DePaul and Iowa.
On a stage previously reserved for men, Caitlin Clark put on a show, notching a triple-double with 34 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists to lead Iowa to a 94-72 victory.
“We’ve never run out to more than, I think, 20,000 at the Final Four,” the Wooden Award winner said. “So more than double that. The amount of people screaming for us — it takes your breath away for a moment.”
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder got the idea to attempt to set the NCAA women’s basketball attendance record — and beat the previous one at the 2002 championship game between Oklahoma and UConn, when 29,619 fans filled the Alamodome in San Antonio — following her team’s title loss to LSU. When she got approval from Iowa’s athletic department, there was one coach she knew would be game — DePaul’s Doug Bruno.
The teams had played a thrilling exhibition game ahead of the 2022-23 season. The problem was, nobody saw it. Because of NCAA rules, the game was closed to the public. Not even boosters were in the gym.
When Bluder contacted Bruno and asked if he would like to make some history, his answer, without pause, was yes.
“We both have done this a long time, and we both think bigger than the small picture,” Bruno told the Sun-Times. “I’ll do anything to help this game grow. So it was just a no-brainer.”
There was no denying Bruno’s pleasure in being part of history, but there was also a basketball game to be played. The task for him this year is tall after the loss through the transfer portal of second-team All-American Aneesah Morrow.
Bruno welcomed eight new players — four transfers and four true freshmen. Sunday was his first look at his new roster in a game setting.
Fifth-year guard Anaya Peoples had a team-high 19 points, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter, along with five rebounds. Sophomore guard Maeve McErlane finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Both are returners for the Blue Demons.
After trailing by 28 points in the third quarter, DePaul went on a run late in the fourth and cut the Hawkeyes’ lead to 11 before it ballooned back to 18.
“It’s one of those things where I’m glad we got it going in the fourth,” Bruno said. “[Peoples] just had a great fourth quarter, and now she knows that’s what will be expected of her every night out.”
The game won’t be added to either team’s record, but all net proceeds from the event will benefit the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
Similar to last year’s exhibition played at DePaul’s Sullivan Center, it will be as if it never happened, except that nearly 60,000 will have the memories to prove it did. After her team’s win, Bluder said she hadn’t thought about making the exhibition game a yearly occurrence.
Clark didn’t need any convincing.
“I’d sign up for it,” Clark said. “Obviously, a lot of things have to go into it, but why not try and break the record every year? We’ll get behind that.”