Nebraska would have liked to get a game in this week before traveling to Iowa City on Saturday, but with that off the table, it turns its attention squarely to the Iowa Hawkeyes.
The last time the two met, Iowa freshman guard Caitlin Clark had a 39-point, 10-rebound, seven-assist explosion to help power the Hawkeyes to an 88-81 win over Nebraska in Lincoln. It was an arena record for points scored in a women’s basketball game, but it was just another in a string of standout performances this season for the likely Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
At 27 a game, Clark is second nationally in scoring and tied for second nationally in 3s made per contest (3.9). With 7.1 assists a night, she’s also second nationally in dimes. Maybe she’s not just the Freshman of the Year but the Big Ten’s outright Player of the Year.
“As soon as you try to give some help or shade her or squeeze over to give a little more help she can find really good shooters and they can knock them down,” Husker coach Amy Williams said after that early-February game.
This is a Hawkeye team that’s currently second nationally in scoring offense and shooting percentage, and third in 3-point percentage. They score 88 points a game. It’s a pick your poison kind of dish they serve teams.
“It’s a tough, tough thing to slow them down because they just have so many weapons,” Williams said during a radio appearance this week. “I think the biggest thing is first and foremost you have to try to slow their transition because they are so, so good at pushing the ball and just attacking in transition. In the open court they can sprint down and bury you inside. … They’ve got trail-post 3s. They have a point guard in Caitlin Clark that can just control tempo, and she’s got great vision.
“Stay alert to shooters and try to do the best you can to limit Caitlin’s looks at the basket.”
At halftime of their first meeting, Clark had 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting. In the third quarter, she flipped the script on the Huskers, and instead of aggressive-mindedness with the intent to score, she created. Five assists in nine minutes.
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder has done well to craft this rotation around her best player.
Junior Hawkeye post Monika Czinano leads the country in qualified shooting percentage at 69.2%.
“On any given night we’ve seen Kate Martin step up, we’ve seen Gabbie Marshall do that same thing, and McKenna Warnock, and they’re getting contributions from Tomi Kaiwo off the bench. Just lots of different players that can step up and be dangerous weapons if you try to give too much attention to their leading scorers,” Williams said. “Just a dangerous and balanced team with lots of weapons.”
Don’t get to 88 points a night without that kind of firepower. Nebraska tried to match them last time.
The Huskers scored 81 in a losing effort. When that’s been the case this season—big offensive day, loss on the scoreboard—Williams has told her team the defense has to be where they make their mark.
Nebraska wants to play in the 60s, Iowa in the 80s. That contrast of styles went to the Hawkeyes the first time. As Williams noted, Iowa wants to get in transition; Nebraska wants to slow the game and wear you down on defense.
To play that way, the Huskers will have to limit their turnovers (10 last time) and control the glass (out-rebounded 37-33 last time). The shot selection has to be smart.
Iowa hasn’t been held under 80 points in a game since Feb. 7, a loss to Indiana. And it’s coming off a second loss to the Hoosiers, an 89-80 showing March 3 that was a makeup game from late-February. Indiana dominated the glass and shot 58% from the floor.
Whatever the way, Nebraska has to find a way. For the Huskers to have any hope at still earning an NCAA Tournament bid, they need this game. Iowa (14-8, 10-8 Big Ten) is 25th in the NET rankings. This would be a significant resume-boosting win for the Huskers.
A win would move Nebraska to 10-9 in the Big Ten this season, no small achievement given all the adversity this group has faced. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT on BTN+.