There’s a chance of history being made for Nebraska women’s basketball when it takes on No. 7 Iowa on Saturday.
The program has had the goal of a sellout at Pinnacle Bank Arena since last summer, and has been targeting the Feb. 18 battle with Iowa as an opportunity for it all season. Nebraska’s game against the rival Hawkeyes last year brought in attendance numbers over 8,400, and Iowa is one of the best teams in the Big Ten. A sellout would be the first for the women’s basketball team since the move to PBA.
As of Friday morning, over 12,000 tickets had been sold, according to the team. That doesn’t quite constitute a sellout, but there’s still time for that number to increase and it’s already in record territory. The current attendance record at PBA for a women’s basketball game is 9,750, a mark set in the team’s first game in the building in 2013. There were 14 games at the Devaney Center with a higher attendance than that, the all-time record being 13,595 for a 2010 matchup against Missouri.
Head coach Amy Williams teared up a little during Friday’s press conference when asked about her reaction to the current ticket sale numbers. In her time as a player at Nebraska in the 1990s, she saw the program’s average attendance grow from under 2,000 to nearly 3,500 by her final season.
“For me, it’s just really special the way Husker nation has answered the call for this team and this group, even though it’s been a little bit up-and-down this season for our group,” Williams said. “But we have such an incredible fan base that’s just going to continue to remain supportive of us and show up for the Huskers, and I just think that says a lot for this program.”
Men’s basketball head coach Fred Hoiberg’s team also has a major home game this weekend on Sunday. However, he made sure to encourage attendance at the women’s game before speaking on the crowds his unit has brought in.
“I expect a full house tomorrow for Amy in the women’s game, I’m excited to see some of that tomorrow, after our practice,” Hoiberg said. “And it’s a great, great weekend to be at PBA … It’s going to be a heck of a game. I know they’ve sold already over 10,000 tickets. Let’s try to get that thing full tomorrow to show support for the women’s team who continues to go out there and compete.”
The Huskers women’s basketball team enters the game needing to make a splash in front of the home crowd. They’ve lost three straight, and have slipped onto the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble after being defeated by Minnesota. With three games left, an upset against Iowa may be necessary to get the team back in that picture.
Nebraska’s dropped seven consecutive games to Iowa, including four since the start of the 2021-22 season. The only matchup this year was a game where the Huskers trailed by 17 points at the end of the third quarter but made a late push to get within five points multiple times down the stretch. They also started out strong, leading 21-15 after the first quarter before being outscored 26-9 in the second.
Replicating that early performance, Williams said, could be key.
“We got off to a great start,” she said. “That’s one thing that I thought is really important. I thought that we kind of knew and understood how we wanted to be able to try to attack them and where our opportunities were going to come from offensively. But the other thing is you have to get great shots at the basket and limit turnovers because they are so good in transition.”
Caitlin Clark scored 33 points and was one assist away from a triple-double in the team’s January meeting, and as one of the top players in the country, she’ll be a threat again. She’s averaging 27.2 points per game, along with 7.6 rebounds, 8.3 assists and 1.7 steals.
“She’s a very special player that I don’t feel alone in being unable to solve the puzzle of,” Williams said. “I’ve watched enough film on her to know that there’s a lot of people trying a lot of different ways to slow her down and it’s easy to talk about and not so easy to actually do.”
Clark’s last two games have featured her least shot attempts of conference play, mostly because of Iowa’s recent dominance. It has won the last two games by a combined 84 points, and the Hawkeyes have won 10 of their last 11 matchups.
The offense is their strength, led by Clark and Monika Czinano. Iowa’s 88.6 points per game is the best mark in the nation by nearly two points, and it leads the Big Ten in team field goal percentage and 3-point makes.
Nebraska is coming off its worst defensive performance of the year, giving up 95 points to Minnesota. The Huskers have had success defensively this season, but that wasn’t evident as the Gophers racked up 57 second-half points.
“There were a lot of things that kind of broke down at different times throughout that ballgame,” Williams said. “And Minnesota being the top offensive rebounding team in the league, I thought they made us pay on a couple of offensive rebounds. But you know, it’s going to just take a complete effort for 40 minutes, staying locked into defensive gameplan and personnel.”
This hasn’t quite been the season Nebraska envisioned it’d be having when this matchup came around, but the team is keeping its spirits high. There’s likely to be a strong gameday atmosphere on Saturday, and the Huskers are looking to finish out the year strong.
“We just keep talking about the fact that we know we haven’t played our best basketball yet, and that if we keep pressing towards that, there’s a lot of opportunity to do some fun and special things for this team,” Williams said. “And we owe it to ourselves, and we owe it to our seniors to keep our foot on the gas trying to press towards becoming the very best version of ourselves.”