Caitlin Clark shut down the celebration.
In front of a program record-setting crowd at Pinnacle Bank Arena, the Huskers found momentum. No. 7 Iowa opened the game on a 7-0 run, but Nebraska battled as to not be left behind. The Huskers forced five first-quarter turnovers against the nation’s top scoring offense, blocked shots from Clark and even chanted “airball” at the National Player of the Year candidate after an open mid-range jumper failed to draw rim.
With Nebraska still trailing, Alexis Markowski scored seven points in two minutes to open the second quarter. Shelley added five soon after that, and her third offensive rebound led to a three from Isabelle Bourne that tied the game at 31. The crowd’s presence could best be felt then, along with when the Huskers forced a shot clock violation soon after.
Then, Clark took control. With just over two minutes to go before halftime, she hit a jumper to regain the lead for the Hawkeyes. The next possession, she knocked down Maddie Krull without a whistle and drove through contact from Alexis Markowski for an and-one. When she missed the free throw, the cheers came back, and a make from Bourne made it a two-point game again.
Clark responded with a staple of her game. She took the ball up the court against Sam Haiby, crossed over once and nailed a three from the Nebraska logo. Haiby followed with a turnover, and Clark dropped in an assist to Monika Czinano to end the half.
In the Huskers’ best stretch of basketball on Saturday, they were only able to match their top-10 opponent. After Iowa’s 7-0 opening run, both teams scored 31 more points. Coming out of halftime, Nebraska couldn’t keep up, and a one-sided fourth-quarter sealed an 80-60 Hawkeye win.
“We knew playing against the No. 7 team in the country, we were going to have to score points,” Nebraska head coach Amy Williams said postgame. “We really wanted to defend, obviously it’s crazy to give up 80 points and still be holding them 10 points below their average, but we knew we were going to have to score points, we didn’t shoot it very well against the zone from behind the arc, and that’s what it’s going to take to beat a team like Iowa.”
Nebraska’s had more success defending Iowa than most teams in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes scored 80 points in both matchups, a number they’ve been held below in regulation just twice in their 14 other conference games. Still, the Huskers couldn’t stop the duo of Clark and Czinano, who scored 50 points in the game before Nebraska did.
Clark has scored at least 30 points in every game she’s played against the Huskers, and recalled postgame that her side has won all seven matchups.
“She’s just been a pretty special talent that you don’t run across very often, and she has the mentality to match, and that’s tough to stop,” Williams said.
As Williams suggested, however, the bigger culprit for the loss was the offensive side. Each of the five teams to beat Iowa this season scored at least 84 points.
Nebraska scored 14 points in both the first and third quarters, and was held to two points through the first seven minutes of the fourth. With Iowa’s top players subbed out, Shelley and Maddie Krull combined for 11 points in the final three minutes to make things appear a bit better than they were.
Before making three of its last five 3-point attempts, Nebraska had only made four threes in 28 tries. It went 3-for-14 in the first half, then after Bourne drained one to open the third quarter, the Huskers missed 13 in a row.
Williams said her team struggled with Iowa’s zone defense and struggled to get inside the arc consistently, but they simply needed to make more shots.
“I thought we got great shots,” she said. “And some days those are going in for us, and today they were not.”
While the team was disappointed to lose, it was happy to see the turnout for the game. The 14,289 fans in attendance cleared the prior Pinnacle Bank Arena program record by nearly 5,000, and beat the all-time program mark by almost 700. Clark and Iowa consistently bring in large road crowds, and there was a respectable number of Hawkeye fans in attendance, but Nebraska had also been promoting this game since early in the season.
The head coach said she got chills coming out of the tunnel. Markowski appreciated it too, having come to basketball games at both the Devaney Center and PBA growing up.
“We’re so thankful for Husker nation,” Markowski said. “I was really hoping to get a W today, but just really appreciative of all the support they’ve given us this year.”
Nebraska has two regular season games left, on the road against Illinois before closing the year at home facing Northwestern. The Huskers are likely on the outside looking in of the NCAA Tournament bubble, and hope to break their four-game losing streak on Wednesday.
“We’re excited for the opportunity to have a rematch against the Illini,” Williams said. “It’s tough to go on the road and win in this league, but I think our team feels like we want to gain some momentum heading into the conference tournament. So nothing better than trying to start with a road win.”