IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Iowa Hawkeye faithful came into Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday to bear witness to a crucial game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers and in the process experienced a blackout.
No, not that kind of a blackout, but a fan blackout.
The Hawkeyes recently defeated the Huskers at Pinnacle Bank Arena, 95-86, on Jan. 9.
During that game, Cailtin Clark and McKenna Warnock registered double-doubles with Clark scoring 31 points and dishing out 12 assists. Warnock added 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Monika Czinano notched 20 points and redshirt junior Kate Martin was perfect from the field and the free-throw line, resulting in 12 points.
The Hawkeyes came into this contest with an overall 9-4 record and a 3-2 conference record.
The Cornhuskers entered with a 13-3 overall record and a 2-3 conference record. They have demonstrated over the course of the season that they are a formidable opponent with a high-scoring offense.
Three Huskers came in averaging double figures in scoring: junior guard Jaz Shelley (13.8), junior guard Sam Haiby (11), and freshman center/forward Alexis Markowski (10.3).
The scouting report also stated that Nebraska ranks eighth in total assists (281) and scoring margin (21.2), ninth in total rebounds (699), 10th in defensive rebounds per game (30.4) and scoring offense (81.3), 12th in free throws made (233), 13th in free throw attempts (328) and 15th in blocked shots (80).
So this game had all the hype and potential to be one that was potentially high scoring and certainly high energy.
As the game commenced, it became obvious that Nebraska was ready to play.
Behind sophomore forward Isabelle Bourne’s eight points, the Huskers jumped out to a 19-5 lead, leaving the Hawkeyes scrambling.
The Huskers were getting off good shots, following through on most of those shots, getting back in transition with a fierce sense of urgency, and putting Carver fans in a state of despair.
Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes were the complete opposite to start off and had to resort to getting to the free throw line as much as possible to claw their way back.
That ultimately wasn’t enough to compensate for their struggles handling the ball and getting off shots and their defense didn't do much to stop Markowski from scoring 16 points in the first, which ended with the visitors up 30-14.
As the second quarter got underway, Iowa started to show signs that it was back in it.
Czinano was a commanding presence in the paint and at the free throw line, as she quickly racked up 10 points, and her performance along with the defense putting more pressure on the Husker offense helped cut the lead from 13 to nine with 6:25 left in the quarter.
But Nebraska would answer by hitting a couple open threes.
However, Iowa didn’t go away quietly as their near perfection from the foul line combined with fuel from the energy of their fans brought them within three towards the end of the quarter.
Additional free throws by Czinano brought it to a one-point game and the first half ended with Nebraska up 42-41. It was an exciting game in the making.
The third quarter began with much anticipation on both sides and with a barrage of threes, mostly from the Huskers.
But Czinano had the great fortune of being at the free throw line with Iowa down by one and converted on both to give the Hawkeyes their first lead of the game.
However, the Huskers cooled the Hawkeye momentum and came back to lead by as much as seven as Markowski was still dynamite from downtown.
But she and her teammates had to contend with Czinano as she essentially put her team on her shoulders and did whatever it took to get the Hawkeyes back in it whether it was in the paint, at the foul line, or on the boards.
Czinano got up to 21 points and the Hawkeyes were down by four with 2:30 to go in the third.
A crucial three from Martin brought it back to a one point game.
Czinano did what she does best as a layup in the paint put Iowa back up, but Nebraska came right back to lead by two.
Then a three from junior guard Gabbie Marshall continued the back and forth and put Iowa up 67-66 at the end of the third. A real nail biter was in the midst.
The fourth quarter started with Iowa exploding to the basket and getting its lead up to six with another gem from Czinano and Clark executing on a strong drive to the lane that resulted in a 3-point play.
But Nebraska muscled their way through, did what it took to stay in the game and gave the Hawkeyes sweat for every bit of it.
With 2:57 to go, the Hawkeyes led 84-78 with Nebraska in possession. After a brief timeout, the Huskers answered with a three from Bourne, bringing the game within three.
With the fans on their feet and exactly a minute left, Gabbie Marshall forced a Huskers offensive foul to give the Hawkeyes a good chance to close it out.
A couple free throws from Clark put the Hawkeyes right where they wanted to be with an 88-81 lead at 32.7 seconds remaining and that would do it.
The Hawkeyes would go on to win 93-83 in a remarkable come-from-behind effort.
Afterwards, Nebraska head coach Amy Williams spoke highly of her team’s efforts even in defeat and gave special recognition to Markowski for going 6-of-7 from the 3-point line.
“I know that she is a confident and capable scorer,” Williams said. “If you would have told me before the game that she would have gone 6-of-7 from the 3-point line, I would have thought 6-of-7 from the paint, 6-of-7 from the free throw line maybe, but 6-of-7 from the 3-point line, I’m not sure I would have bet on that, but what I have learned from Lex is don’t bet against anything with her.”
As for the victors, coach Lisa Bluder never relented when they were down by 16 and expressed confidence that her team would pull it off.
“I thought we had the momentum,” she said. “We just chipped away at it and did it the old-fashioned way.”
Czinano, who notched a game-high 31 points, knew what a journey it took and she and her teammates had big smiles on their faces as the clock was winding down, knowing they had done it.
“We really had to battle back” she said. “Nebraska is a great team and playing them (twice) as close (together) as we did, it is hard to do and I think it is a really satisfying win and a confidence-builder for the team.”
Clark, who had 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists to secure a triple-double, echoed that confident sentiment.
“Any time you win conference games it is important and obviously the Big Ten is loaded” she said. “We didn’t give up and we didn’t have any panic and knew we could get back in the game.”
Czinano matched Clark with 31 points of her own.
Iowa (10-4, 4-1 Big Ten) will hit the road to take on Minnesota on Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. Nebraska (13-4, 2-4 Big Ten) will play Rutgers at home at the same time.