Nebraska women’s basketball had been struggling, losing four of its last five games, and needed a win for a multitude of reasons on Thursday night. The Huskers’ chances at an NCAA Tournament appearance have been dwindling but a road win against its ranked rival would be a resume booster.
The Huskers traveled east on I-80 to take on conference leader No. 20 Iowa. The Hawkeyes had been on fire entering the game, winning eight of their last nine games after a stunning loss at Nebraska back in December.
In that game, Nebraska slowed down the Hawkeye offense just enough to win 78-69 and the Hawkeyes shot 36.8 percent from the field. The Huskers defense brought their defensive tenacity to the rematch between the two schools right away, giving Nebraska a chance, but it wasn’t enough to stave off the Hawkeyes in a 76-60 loss.
The second highest-scoring offense in all of Big Ten, the Hawkeyes scored five points in the first five minutes of the first quarter. That start was what Nebraska (15-8, 5-7 Big Ten) needed to pull off an upset in Iowa City.
Instead, Nebraska scored its first points of the game with 5:02 left in the first quarter from sophomore forward Leigha Brown’s 3-pointer. Iowa led 5-3 and the rest of the first quarter continued to be a defensive grind.
Brown scored eight of Nebraska’s 13 points in the first quarter while Iowa had a number of individual scorers. Only three Huskers scored during the first quarter yet Nebraska and Iowa remained tied at 13-13.
The Hawkeyes shot 41.6 percent from the field in the first quarter, an efficient first quarter after not scoring for the first three-and-a-half minutes. The second quarter saw Iowa’s offense continue to improve steadily despite another slow start.
Nebraska took a 21-16 lead with seven minutes left after senior guard Hannah Whitish made her first 3-pointer of the game. That was an area the Hawkeyes had struggled in the first matchup where senior guard Nicea Eliely, sophomore guard Sam Haiby and Whitish all had double-digit points.
This time around, those were Whitish’s only points of the first half while Eliely had two points and Haiby got zero points during the first half. The Hawkeye defense had limited some of Nebraska’s best scorers and erased the five-point deficit in less than a minute.
Junior center Kate Cain had her hands full as she defended sophomore forward Monika Czinano, who had an increased offensive role. Czinano led Iowa’s offense to 14 first-half points and got the best of Cain in the paint, which was similar to the first match-up between the two.
On offense, the Huskers were propped up by Cain and Brown. Brown and Cain combined for 14 second-quarter points to keep the game close as Iowa led 35-32 into halftime. The Huskers’ offensive style was not sustainable and that style reared its ugly head in the third quarter.
Iowa’s defense limited as many touches as it could in the third quarter to Cain and Brown. The Husker duo had four field goal attempts on seven points while the rest of the Huskers combined for six points.
Nebraska’s offense was stifled and with little help from its guards, Nebraska was stuck in a loop of long and ineffective possessions. Those bad possessions were a seam for Iowa to break through and the Hawkeyes did.
Iowa’s offensive machine rolled on, shooting 50 percent from the field and scoring 22 third-quarter points. The Hawkeyes’ season leading scorer, senior guard Kathleen Doyle, got herself into a groove by scoring seven points in the third quarter.
Doyle and Czinano were the leaders of the Hawkeye offense and Nebraska had no response on either side of the court to those two. Nebraska trailed 57-45 heading into the fourth quarter yet the lead felt much bigger.
Iowa’s offense was scoring at will, going at least 50 percent from the field over the last two quarters while the Huskers struggled getting consistent baskets. The fourth quarter went to Iowa as Nebraska shot below 30 percent to cap off the game.
The Huskers had one of their worst offensive performances of the season, going 22-67 from the field and 8-30 from the perimeter. Along with struggles at the free-throw line, Nebraska’s offense cratered despite the low turnovers.
Nebraska’s tournament chances are fading away and there are not many statement games left for a team once which began the season 11-1. Nebraska returns home to take on No. 20 Indiana this Sunday for a chance to get its season back on track.