Nebraska knew it had a challenge ahead of it Sunday night as it prepared for the rematch with All-American guard Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City.
The Huskers were without two starting guards in Sam Haiby and Jaz Shelley. Haiby, the team’s leading scorer in Big Ten play, was out with a shoulder injury she sustained in the fourth quarter last Thursday at Indiana. Shelley, the Huskers’ leading scorer overall and second-leading rebounder, wasn’t even with the team on Sunday as she was in health and safety protocols, per the Huskers Radio Network.
But depth at guard wasn’t the only thing Nebraska had to battle on Sunday—fouling was another. The Huskers were called for 28 fouls while the Hawkeyes were whistled for seven. The free-throw line was the difference in the game—Iowa went a whopping 31-of-34 at the line while shooting 29-of-51 from the field. Nebraska got just eight opportunities at the line, making five of them.
Despite not having their top two players and the Hawkeyes getting 31 points at the charity stripe, the Huskers still managed to lead the hosts by 16 points at the end of the first quarter. But behind all those free-throw makes, a triple-double from Clark (31 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) and 31 points from Monika Czinano, Iowa escaped with a 93-83 win.
“I’m proud of our fight today, I really thought that we tried to do what we could do to control what we could control, and to try to overcome quite a bit of adversity out here and just continue to fight,” Nebraska head coach Amy Williams said. “No, we’re not happy giving up 93 points, and no, we’re not happy with moral victories. Our program is to a point now where we expect to win ball games like that. I am proud of our fight.”
Nebraska got off to a great start, leading the Hawkeyes 30-14 after the first quarter. A big reason for that was the play of true freshman Alexis Markowski, who scored 16 points and didn’t miss from the field in the opening 10 minutes, going 6-for-6 and 4-for-4 from 3-point range. Markowski wound up scoring a career-high 27 points and went 6-of-7 from 3. She came into the game 4-of-7 on the season from behind the arc.
“She has confidence to be able to knock down shots and whenever scoring opportunities come, then she’s going to take them,” Williams said of Markowski. “I didn’t probably expect that she would go 6-for-7 from the 3-point line, but nothing that Lex does is surprising me right now. She’s a competitor and she’s going to go out there and fight for her team and I thought she did a great job of that today.”
Isabelle Bourne chipped in with 15 points, four rebounds and three assists while Ashley Scoggin had nine points and six boards. Allison Weidner, a true freshman from Humphrey, Nebraska, who was making her first start, added eight points and five assists.
While the opening stanza was everything the Huskers could have imagined, the second was the opposite. The Hawkeyes outscored them by 15 points and did damage at the line, going 12-of-13. Nebraska’s lead was slashed to 42-41 at halftime.
“Iowa was very aggressive and got to the free-throw line a lot in the second quarter,” a buttoned-up Williams said after the game.
Three Huskers—Markowski, Ruby Porter and Scoggin—all connected on a 3 early in the third, and an 8-0 run helped give Nebraska a 61-54 edge with a little under five minutes remaining in the quarter. But Iowa ended the third on a 13-5 run that was capped with an open transition 3 from Gabbie Marshall. That triple gave the Hawkeyes their second lead of the game, 67-66, heading into the fourth.
Iowa outscored Nebraska 26-17 in the final 10 minutes and went 8-of-9 at the free-throw line. An 8-2 Husker run that included a 3 from both Scoggin and Markowski, as well as a layup from Bourne, cut the Huskers’ deficit to 84-81 with 2:46 left in the game, but the Hawkeyes sealed the win with a 9-2 run that included five free-throw makes.
Next up for Nebraska (13-4 overall, 2-4 in Big Ten) is a home contest against Rutgers (7-12, 0-7) on Thursday at 7 p.m. On Sunday, the Huskers travel to face the Illinois Fighting Illini (6-9, 1-3) for a 2 p.m. tip.
“I think this stretch was a rough stretch, but to be honest it does not get any easier. Rutgers is going to pose a problem. They’re not a ranked opponent but their defense is one of the best in the country, so from my standpoint, I don’t think we’re through it,” Williams said of the tough Big Ten slate. “We still have rough waters ahead—it’s going to be that way for the rest of Big Ten play and we’re just going to have to be sharp and find ways to keep getting better.”