One team had star power that once again shined, the other saw its season-long inconsistencies continue to cause problems. Can you guess who’s who?
On Senior Night no less, Nebraska (13-15, 8-9 Big Ten) let Hawkeye forward Megan Gustafson do whatever she wanted as No. 12 Iowa (22-6, 13-4 Big Ten) swept the season series with a 74-58 win.
Gustafson—Iowa’s leading scorer at 27 a night, the Big Ten’s presumptive Player of the Year and one of college basketball’s best—had six points and four boards in the opening 10 minutes.
Inside Pinnacle Bank Arena on Monday night, with Nebraska looking to stay hot in its climb up the Big Ten standings, the Huskers threw everything at Gustafson early. She got doubled when she caught entries into the post. Freshman Ashtyn Veerbeek fronted her to deny deep touches. NU surrendered space outside, ceding the jumpshot in an effort to keep the dominant post player away from the basket.
For the first 10 minutes it seemed like it was maybe working. Gustafson had six points, but she wasn’t controlling the game. Nebraska was. The Huskers took a 7-2 opening punch from the 12th-ranked Hawkeyes, stayed off the mat and won the first 10 minutes 16-12.
Then NU started letting Gustafson go over that right shoulder.
She got the first bucket of the second quarter 32 seconds after play resumed. A lefty layup spinning off her right shoulder after establishing position way down low.
Iowa turned a 16-12 deficit into a 30-21 lead in six-and-a-half minutes. Gustafson supplied 11 of the 18 points. Iowa took a 35-26 lead into the locker room at halftime after their star single-handedly outscored the Huskers 11-10 in the frame. Veerbeek looked like Nebraska’s best defender for Gustafson, a sinking feeling considering the Hawkeye had 17 points and 10 boards in the first two quarters.
And while Iowa’s offensive engine was humming, Nebraska’s was stuck in the same kind of sludge that filled the streets outside PBA. The Huskers’ two leading scorers, junior Hannah Whitish and freshman Leigha Brown, combined for zero points on 0-for-9 shooting in the first 20 minutes.
But for a team that struggled to shoot the ball all night (finishing at 35 percent from the field), Nebraska fought back to begin the second half and eventually tied the game at 43-all with 2:30 to play in the third.
It was a five-point game with 10 minutes to play, but Gustafson once again slammed the door. She scored eight of the first 10 points of the fourth and built Iowa’s lead back out to 10. This time those open jumpers from the outside were falling and Gustafson was running back on defense with a huge smile across her face.
“When you let up your focus for just a few possessions,” head coach Amy Williams said after the game, “the really good teams will make you pay.”
Gustafson ended the night with 29 points and 20 rebounds. Her 81st career double-double came on a 13-for-19 shooting night. She rendered starting center Kate Cain ineffective while putting her in foul trouble. Cain was in line for a heavy workload on defense as Nebraska’s best rim protector, but she saw only 21 minutes because of three personal fouls.
Gustafson also outscored Nebraska’s starting five 29-27 and outrebounded them 20-15.
Iowa turned it over 16 times compared to the Huskers nine and gave up 11 offensive rebounds. Neither statistical loss made a lick of difference. The Huskers got two points on the fastbreak and five second-chance points as Iowa dominated the painted area.
It’s a tough loss for the Huskers to swallow, as the two-game winning streak will come to an end. With the regular season finale on Saturday against Penn State on the road (2 p.m. CT tip on BTN), Nebraska can no longer finish conference play with a winning record. But, getting one more win will be crucial.
The middle of the Big Ten standings features six teams all within 1.5 games of each other. Nebraska dropped from No. 6 in the conference to No. 9 with the loss Monday night, but can move as high as No. 5 with some help.
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.