With victory in hand and 25 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Iowa sophomore guard Caitlin Clark turned to the Pinnacle Bank Arena crowd after being fouled and motioned “bring it on.”
That move drew boos—a lot of them—from the 8,415 Husker fans that packed into PBA Sunday afternoon for the game between the Huskers and Hawkeyes. Clark wound up missing the first of two free throws—which drew plenty of cheers—but her damage had already been done. The first-team All-American and Big Ten Freshman of the Year from last season scored 31 points to go with 12 assists and eight rebounds to help the No. 22 Hawkeyes to a 95-86 win over Nebraska.
After the game, the 6-foot Clark—who shot 11-of-24 from the field, 1-of-6 from 3-point range and 8-of-9 on free throws—said she was excited to play in Lincoln after what she did against Nebraska last year. In the two games against the Huskers, Clark averaged 37 points and nine rebounds while shooting a combined 100% (17-of-17) from the line and 55% (11-of-20) from 3-point range.
“I enjoy playing here, I knew the crowd was going to be pretty good, and I love that,” Clark said. “I was kind of getting into it with them a little bit, but I think for women’s basketball, that’s exactly what you need. I love that. I love when we went to Iowa State. I love when we went to Duke. Those crowds were incredible. And I’m a competitor, I love playing in front of people. I think that’s what brings out the best and I think that brings out the best in our team.”
After beating No. 8 Michigan by a whopping 21 points last Tuesday, Nebraska had its chances to win its second consecutive game against a ranked opponent, but a key play at the end of the third quarter and a stretch in the fourth ruined those hopes.
Trailing just 71-70 near the end of the third, Clark was fouled on a buzzer-beating 3-point attempt. She calmly stepped to the line and sank all three attempts to put Iowa back up 74-70.
In the fourth, after a steal and assist from Husker guard Jaz Shelley to fellow sharpshooter Ashley Scoggin for a 3 that gave the Huskers a 79-78 lead with 6:41 left in the game, the Huskers’ miscues piled up. They ultimately opened the door for the Hawkeyes to regain the lead.
First, Iowa’s AJ Ediger grabbed an offensive rebound off a miss from Clark. That rebound turned into a 3 from Kate Martin, who had 12 points and didn’t miss from the field (4-of-4, 2-of-2 from 3). That bucket put the Hawkeyes back up 81-79.
Then the Huskers failed to locate McKenna Warnock in transition defense—and she was the wrong player to lose track of. Warnock drilled the triple and finished the game with 23 points, 10 rebounds and was light’s out from 3-point land, making 7-of-9. Warnock’s 3 put Nebraska in an 86-81 hole with 4:47 left in the game.
Nebraska head coach Amy Williams knew the threat that Warnock and others were. Nebraska dropped both its games against Iowa last season. In one of them, Warnock scored 19 points and went 4-of-8 from 3. In the other, Gabbie Marshall scored 14 and was 4-of-5 from deep. Marshall finished Sunday’s game with seven points and didn’t miss from the field, going 3-of-3 and 1-of-1 from 3.
“We know she’s (McKenna Warnock) a very capable 3-point shooter, so that’s something we definitely wanted to try to limit and really contest and get out and not give up, and then she goes out and gets nine shots up and makes seven of them,” Williams said. “We knew what to expect out of Caitlin Clark’s supporting cast, but we didn’t do what we needed to do to take it away.”
By that time, the Huskers’ window for a win had closed. Iowa finished the game on a 9-5 run to seal the victory and improve its record to 8-4 overall with a 2-1 mark in Big Ten play. Nebraska currently sits 13-2 and 2-2 in conference play.
It was an impressive offensive performance from the Hawkeyes, who shot 61.7% from the field while Nebraska shot 39.8% overall and 26.5% (9-of-34) from 3. The Hawkeyes came into the game 13th in the nation in field-goal percentage at 46.8%
“We did not defend the way we need to defend in order to do that against a high-powered offense like Iowa,” Williams said after the game. “I thought they really came in and made big shots, big plays.”
The Huskers’ defensive errors in crunch time was one of the stories of the game. But so was Clark’s playmaking. Her 12 assists went to teammates who shot well, like Warnock (8-of-11 from the field), Monika Czinano (20 points, 10-of-14), Martin and Marshall.
“We wanted to slow her down a little bit better than we did in transition,” Williams said of the game plan against Clark. “I thought she really did a great job of just putting pressure on us right off the bat, finding alleys and getting into the paint early. So we’re going to have to do a better job of that the next time around. We need to do a better job of finding opportunities where we can try to work to limit her touches.”
Guard Sam Haiby led the Huskers with 18 points and had three rebounds and three assists. Shelley recorded her fifth double-double of the season with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Alexis Markowski added 14 points and eight boards while Ashley Scoggin had 13 points and four assists.
Nebraska will face its third consecutive ranked opponent on Tuesday when it travels to Bloomington, Indiana, to play the No. 6 Indiana Hoosiers (12-2, 4-0). The Hoosiers are riding a seven-game winning streak.