To say that the No. 10 Iowa Hawkeyes are riding the confidence gained from their spectacular win against No. 2 Ohio State would be a drastic understatement. They dethroned the previously undefeated Buckeyes and in dramatic fashion, capturing their fifth consecutive win. They came back home to celebrate with their fans as they took on the unranked but fairly competitive Nebraska Cornhuskers in a matinee matchup.
Noticeably absent was McKenna Warnock, who is out with an injury she sustained to her ribcage against Michigan State on Jan. 18. Her status remains unknown. Molly Davis filled her spot in the starting lineup.
Early on, the Hawkeyes were cold from the field as they missed their first six shot attempts, allowing the Cornhuskers to get out on a 6-0 run. Iowa looked rather disorganized and needed to get the juices flowing. A full timeout to review a potential shot clock violation by Iowa was potentially the spark that it needed.
When play resumed, the Hawkeyes’ struggles continued and they still couldn’t hit a bucket. Furthermore, their offense wasn’t moving without the ball and as a result had four turnovers.
At the 5:21 mark of the first, none other than Caitlin Clark broke the spell with a 3-pointer that made it 8-3. Then, at 5:02, Kate Martin followed up with a three of her own to cut the Cornhusker lead to a basket at 8-6.
The Hawkeyes got back into the game but the Cornhuskers were very much alive and in control as they would answer for every basket.
During a three-minute stretch, the Huskers went on a 9-2 run and with 1:20 left in the first, it was Nebraska up by 10 at 21-11.
As the quarter drew to a close, the Hawkeyes were still in desperate need of waking up and getting on a roll. They made some dents with a couple of baskets down the stretch and some tenacious defense, but they still needed to get themselves together.
At the end of one, Nebraska led 21-15. The Cornhuskers were 8-of-11 from the field whereas Iowa was 4-of-16.
The second quarter began with some sluggish play on both sides. But at the 8:40 mark, Davis broke through with a 3-pointer that made it a 21-18 game.
Then, at 8:13, after a Cornhusker basket, she answered back with a jumper, making it a 3-point game again at 23-20.
Then, at 7:56, Clark wasted no time in transition and converted on a huge 3-pointer that tied the game at 23. Things were starting to pick up for the Hawkeyes and it seemed as if they were now wide awake.
Oh were they ever.
At 7:23, Monika Czinano muscled her way through the paint to lay it off the glass and give Iowa its first lead at 25-23.
At 6:15, Clark hit from the logo to increase the lead and volume level at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeye defense was also stifling the Cornhuskers into a state of stagnation where they weren’t able to generate much movement.
Then, at 4:29, Hannah Stuelke scored on a fast break layup and converted the and-one for a 31-23 Hawkeyes lead. By this time, Iowa was on a 13-2 run.
With just under three minutes to go in the first half, the Hawkeyes were on top of their game and playing their game. At the end of the first half, they led 41-30. They outscored Nebraska 26-9 in the second quarter.
The third quarter started with Iowa as the clear favorites and on the path to victory, but the Cornhuskers still had some juice left in them to at least keep the game fairly competitive. Nebraska was playing with more reckless abandon and was moving with and without the ball better than it did in the second.
Players such as Sam Haiby, Callin Hake, Isabelle Bourne and Alexis Markowski were converting from the 3-point line, scoring inside and making some tangible inroads to keep the game from getting completely out of hand.
At the 4:41 mark of the third, the Hawkeyes led 53-40, but their once fast-paced style of play had largely slowed down.
As the quarter wound down, Iowa still had a sizable lead, but Nebraska was pushing itself to work for every basket to cut it down little by little. Also, Iowa was mostly going to the free throw line to generate points.
In the final seconds, Czinano hit a jumper at the buzzer off a feed from Clark to conclude the third quarter at 67-50 Hawkeyes.
As the fourth quarter got underway, Iowa knew it needed to simply finish strong. But it also knew that Nebraska had some renewed mojo working in its favor even while facing a double-digit deficit. The lead was put in jeopardy early on after a series of baskets by the Cornhuskers. At the 8:37 mark, Jaz Shelley converted on a 3-point play to cut the lead down to 10 at 67-57.
At 7:36, Haiby drove into the lane and cut it to single digits for the first time since the early part of the second quarter, completing a 9-0 run.
A dagger was thrown into the hearts of the Hawkeyes at the 6:60 mark after a huge wide-open 3-pointer by Annika Stewart cut it down to five at 67-62. The Hawkeyes were still without a basket in the fourth quarter.
Then, at the 6:30 mark, the mood in Carver shifted when Clark answered right back with a three at the top of the key that gave the Hawkeyes a 70-62 lead.
The final four minutes were a test of will and strength. There was still plenty of basketball to play and around the 2:30 mark, Nebraska’s Maddie Krull hit a 3-pointer to cut it back down to a five-point game at 75-70.
With seconds left, Clark turned the ball over and everyone at Carver gasped in awe of what they thought was about to transpire. However, the Huskers’ hopes were quickly dashed after they missed a couple shots and were forced to foul.
Clark converted on two free throws to give the Hawkeyes a 77-70 lead with 37.2 seconds left.
Then, just when it seemed like Iowa was on its way to victory, Haiby had other plans. She hit a big 3-pointer with 18.6 seconds left to bring it back to a four-point game at 77-73.
However, Nebraska still needed to foul and Clark went 1-of-2 at the line to make it 78-73. A missed 3-pointer by Markowski, a subsequent rebound by Clark and two free throws from Clark, put the final nail in the coffin for the Cornhuskers even with a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Krull.
The Hawkeyes walked away bruised and battered, but they conquered Nebraska 80-76 for their sixth consecutive win.
Clark finished with 33 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists. Czinano had 17 points and seven rebounds. Stuelke had 12 points and two rebounds.
Afterward, Clark spoke to how vital free throws are to winning tough games, as Iowa shot 81.8 percent and she went 10-of-12. She also gave props to Stuelke, who went 4-of-5.
“That is something our team prides ourselves in,” she said. “We really want to be a really good free throw shooting team. Hannah was 4-of-5 today so that’s pretty awesome. She is somebody that has been really working at it and that really pays off. Free throws really do matter.”
Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder discussed Davis (five points, four rebounds) taking over for Warnock.
“I think Molly continued to work hard on defense,” she said. “I think she could shoot the ball more. I think she had a wide-open three that she passed up. She is very capable of that and I’m very thankful we have Molly because obviously she was backing up the one-two and now she is playing the three for us. She knows more plays in all these positions, which is really hard to do.”
Iowa (17-4, 9-1 Big Ten) will play at home against No. 10 Maryland (17-4, 8-2 Big Ten) next Thursday at 7:30 p.m. CST.