With the Big Ten Tournament less than a month away, every single game left on the schedule is crucial.
In tonight’s game, conference rivals Nebraska and Iowa both entered on a two-game losing streak. Unfortunately for the Huskers, they were the team that walked away with their third straight loss, falling 88-81 in a close affair.
The loss was in large part due to Iowa star freshman guard Caitlyn Clark, who lit up the scoresheet with a career-high 39 points on just 18 shots. Clark has been averaging nearly 26 points per game for the Hawkeyes, and this is now her seventh 30-point game of the season.
“Caitlyn Clark shot the ball really well tonight,” head coach Amy Williams said postgame. “We couldn’t contain her and we couldn’t ignore the rest of the Iowa’s team either, so it was just unfortunate that we couldn’t keep the scoring down.”
For the Huskers, junior guard Sam Haiby led the way with 28 points on the night. Sophomore forward Isabelle Bourne was behind her with 16 points and junior forward Bella Cravens finished third for Nebraska with 12. Despite the high scoring performance by Nebraska, its defensive output was less stellar, in part due to Iowa’s high-powered 87 point per game offense.
“We wanted to keep this game low scoring,” Williams said. “Iowa is the third-best scoring team in the country, so we didn’t want the pace to get out of hand, but they ended up scoring 88, which is a point higher than their average.”
Haiby started the game off with a 3-pointer, which was then followed by Bourne landing one of her own. Iowa responded with its own 3-pointer, until shots were finally made inside the arc. The Hawkeyes got a hold of the lead just under four minutes into the first quarter, 11-10, which then became 14-10 with their second 3-pointer. After a Scoggin three and an Iowa basket, the Hawkeyes called a timeout at the halfway point of the quarter, up 16-14.
Cravens subbed in and made two baskets to give the Huskers a 17-16 lead. After over a minute of back-and-forth action, Iowa took back the lead and finished the quarter with a 3-pointer from Clark to be up 29-23.
The pace slowed down in the second as through the first four minutes, only four points were scored, all by Haiby. Iowa dropped five points within the next minute to take a 34-27 lead. Nebraska followed that up with a six-point run to cut the deficit to one. But the Hawkeyes didn’t give up the lead, and finished the half up 41-35.
Nebraska also went on a 3-pointer drought after making three in the first quarter, as they finished the game shooting 7-of-26. Iowa on the other hand finished the game going 12-of-24 from beyond the arc, contributing significantly to its high offensive ceiling.
The Huskers continued batting from behind, even getting the lead down to 48-47 four minutes into the third quarter. Iowa, however, erupted in response as it ignited a 17-7 run to head into fourth up 65-54.
The Hawkeyes lead only grew in the final 10 minutes, forcing the game out of reach for the Huskers. Never giving up, Nebraska had one last roll of the dice, and came roaring back with a 13-0 run to cut the deficit to 78-74.
“That run shows the character that our team has,” Williams said. “It would be very easy to crumble in that 17 point deficit and make it a 20-plus point loss. Our team has fighters, but we also know we can’t dig ourselves into a 17 point hole either.”
However, Clark put the final nail in the coffin with a 3-pointer to make it 81-74 with just over a minute left. She also scored Iowa’s final six points of the game from the free-throw line to finalize the 88-81 win.
“Caitlyn [Clark] is a very good player,” Haiby said. “She’s very crafty with the ball, that’s very difficult to deal with when trying to contain her and her in front of you. She’s also very good from long two-point and three-point range.”
With the loss, Nebraska falls to 9-8 on the season and 7-7 in conference play. This is also the second time this season the Huskers have lost three straight games, the first coming in the middle of December to Creighton, Indiana and Purdue. The next game for Nebraska will be on Feb. 14 at home against Maryland. Tipoff is at 4 p.m..
“We got to get better,” Williams said. “That message hasn’t changed. We need to continue pressing forward, correcting mistakes or else there will be no one left on our schedule we can have success with.”