The difference was Caitlin Clark. Sometimes it’s as simple as that. Play defense for 29 seconds and the opponent will hit a tough shot in your face in the 30th second. Rip off a lightning-quick 13-0 run to surge back into the game late, and the opposing team’s offensive fulcrum will break your heart with a dagger shot.
Clark, the Hawkeyes’ freshman guard and jewel of the 2020 recruiting class, had a career-high 39 points Thursday night to help Iowa beat Nebraska 88-81.
For the Huskers, it’s now the third straight loss on the season, dropping the team to 9-8 overall and 7-7 in Big Ten play.
“This is a tough loss for us on our home court,” coach Amy Williams said after. “I thought we showed some fight down the stretch, getting down 17 and then cutting it back to a four-point game, but the truth is with a team like Iowa, you can’t dig yourself a 17-point deficit.
“We had a stretch there where we didn’t shoot very well from the perimeter, we settled for outside shots, we didn’t necessarily take advantage and get the points in the paint that we wanted to. It came back to bite us.”
Clark was outstanding from the get-go, with 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting (3-3 3P) in the first quarter. She got a friendly rim on a buzzer-beating triple that saw the ball bounce up then nuzzle softly in.
It capped a 29-point guard for the Hawkeyes in which they made 11 of their 14 shots. Nebraska put up 23 on 50% shooting; not a bad frame in its own right, but the table was set—Nebraska would have to keep pace because Iowa wasn’t going to slow down.
The Hawkeyes shot 51% for the game and made 12 triples. The 3-ball was a difference-maker, even when Clark wasn’t the one hitting them.
She finished with seven assists to go with 10 rebounds and 39 points. The former 5-star found open teammates with dimes and drew extra attention from Nebraska’s defense.
Help off your man too much and Clark found her open behind the 3-point line. Give up a lane to the basket and she’d make you pay. Play off. . . Clark shot 6-for-10 from beyond the arc, and none were bigger than a triple from just inside the logo at center court with 1:15 to play.
“She was very efficient tonight,” Williams said of Clark’s game. “It only took her 18 shots to get there. Double-double, seven assists, she just found a way to really impact the game.”
Nebraska had stunned the Hawkeyes a bit before that shot, though.
With 5:19 to play in the game, Iowa led 78-61.
Over the course of the next three minutes, Nebraska embarked on a 13-0 run to cut the margin to four.
Mi’Cole Cayton knocked down a pair of free throws. Nebraska got a stop.
Sam Haiby came down and drilled a corner 3 off a little two-man action with Annika Stewart. Nebraska got another stop.
Ashley Scoggin hit a 3 from the left wing. Nebraska got another stop. Nine-point game.
Haiby came down and buried another 3. Nebraska turned Clark over at the other end. Six-point game.
Haiby put her head down and got all the way to the rim, drawing a fourth foul on Iowa center Monika Czinano. She made both free throws. Then Annika Stewart pulled the chair on Czinano and drew a charge, a fifth and final foul on the Hawkeye center to end her night. Four point game.
Clark came down the next possession and took out her do-it-yourself kit.
— Iowa Women's BBall (@IowaWBB) February 12, 2021
“There were plenty of times where they would hit a really tough deep 3 late (in the) shot clock. We can do a better job and learn from this,” Williams said. “Caitlin Clark obviously hit several big shots and was tough to defend, but it seemed like McKenna Warnock hit a couple late-shot-clock, at-the-buzzer 3s where we’d played a pretty good possession of defense and it ended up in her hands and she sparked them with a huge 3.”
The 81 points were three off the previous conference-high for this season set against Wisconsin. Offense wasn’t the issue. Haiby finished with 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting. Issie Bourne pitched in 16 points, Bella Cravens had 12, and Scoggin had 10. But Nebraska would rather play in the 60s.
Iowa, the nation’s third-best scoring offense, wants to push the tempo. Shot-making against OK-to-good defense has a tendency of making the trailing side press.
“When you find yourself in those situations, it would be very easy to crumble and take a 17-point deficit and turn it into a 20-24-point loss, but I think this team is a group of fighters,” Williams said. “We know that we can’t dig ourselves into 17-point deficits and still be successful, but we also know that we’re never gonna die and we’re going to continue to fight and fight and fight.”
The last time NU lost three straight games it broke the slide with a home upset of then-No. 15 Northwestern.
The ninth-ranked Maryland Terrapins (13-2, 9-1 Big Ten) come to town on Sunday. Tipoff for that game is set for 4 p.m. CT on FS1.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.