Caitlin Clark, college basketball’s all-time leading scorer, was just 8 of 19 from the field against Holy Cross. She was clearly frustrated. The Hawkeyes learned lessons that may help down the road.

If Caitlin Clark and Iowa get back to the Final Four, remember this game.

It’s easy to win when everything is going right. When college basketball’s all-time leading scorer is draining buckets and hitting logo 3s. When a top-seeded team is impervious to both rust and the free-wheeling abandon of a 16 seed.

This wasn’t that kind of game. Clark couldn’t buy a bucket for most of the night while, early on, the Hawkeyes’ offense sputtered like a car left out in the dead of an Iowa winter. Hannah Stuelke, Iowa’s second-leading scorer, was under the weather and played just 10 minutes.

Holy Cross, meanwhile, didn’t get the memo that 16 seeds are supposed to go away quietly, trailing by just two points after the first quarter.

Caitlin Clark reacts to a call while playing Holy Cross in the NCAA Tournament's first round.

But Iowa is a veteran group that has designs on going one step further than it did last year, when it lost to LSU in the NCAA championship game. It’s games like these, adversity like this, that establishes the foundation necessary for deep runs in March and April.

“I think the first quarter frustrated maybe all of us. This is a game you want to come out and dominate from the start because this is what fuels your run,” Clark said.

“I was a little frustrated,” she added, “but I feel like that comes from knowing what it takes to be where we want to be.”

How Iowa responded should give Clark and her teammates confidence that they do have what it takes, that they can survive the inevitable rough patches they’ll encounter over the next several weeks.

After that first quarter, they stomped their foot on the gas and wound up winning by 26 points, 91-65, despite Clark and Kate Martin not playing for almost half the fourth quarter.

Though Clark was 8 of 19 from the floor, she still had 27 points. Flirted with a triple-double, too, finishing with 10 assists and eight rebounds. And though she wasn’t hitting, her teammates were. Three other players finished in double figures, led by Martin’s double-double of 15 points and 14 rebounds.

Gabbie Marshall — or Gabbie “Marchall,” as Martin called her, referencing her accuracy from 3-point range late last year — was at it again, going 3 of 7 from deep. And Addison O’Grady, who came off the bench because Stuelke was sick, had a season-high 14 points — 10 over her average — and five rebounds.

“We have high expectations for ourselves so we’re not super pleased with every single quarter,” Martin said. “I’m proud of the way we responded in a lot of situations tonight.”

To win a title, or even just get to the Final Four, you need talent. Obviously. You also need a couple of breaks.

But more than anything, you need to find ways to win when the game isn’t coming easily or your backs are against the wall. If you’re lucky, that’s what the early rounds in the tournament give you, stress tests to find your weaknesses and fixes for them.

Clark mentioned several times after the game that she needs to “smile more.” No woman athlete should ever feel required to do that. We get told that enough in our daily lives.

But Clark’s frustration was evident to everyone watching the game, and better, more experienced teams will exploit that if it happens again deeper into the tournament. Now she knows, or is reminded, that she needs to mask her emotions better.

Iowa hadn’t played since the Big Ten Tournament title game almost two weeks ago, and it showed early in the Hawkeyes’ anemic offense. But when they cranked up their defense in the second quarter — they held Holy Cross to nine points and harassed them into 1-of-12 shooting — the offense began to flow.

“That’s one of the best parts of this team. We always are in a game, no matter what the situation is,” Clark said. “I think that just speaks to our offensive firepower. When we’re able to string stops together, that’s when our offense really thrives.”

Another lesson to remember.

“I’m happy with it. I’m not going to ever complain about a 26-point victory,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “Of course the first quarter, we were a little bit rusty but I thought we got it going after that. Our 3-point defense was really good and that was key for us. We did a really good job on the boards. We got great paint points, took advantage of some of those things.

“So yeah, I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Tough games often reveal more about a team than easy blowouts. Clark and Iowa need to remember what they learned against Holy Cross. They can’t afford to take that class again.