Caitlin Clark takes over late as Iowa pushes past Nebraska, earns 6 seed in league tourney
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Caitlin Clark was the player of the game, as usual, for Iowa on Saturday.
But Kate Martin made the play of the game to kickstart a brilliant closing stretch in a come-from-behind 83-75 victory over Nebraska at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Clark, the Hawkeyes’ extraordinary freshman point guard, missed a 3-pointer with 8 minutes, 18 seconds remaining and her team behind 63-62 in a crucial regular-season finale. Martin had a career-high eight rebounds in the game, and this was her biggest, as she chased the basketball down near the sideline and promptly set up Clark one more time.
You don’t give Clark two chances to score three points.
“I knew that was in,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said afterward. “When she’s in rhythm like that, has her feet underneath her, she is unbelievable.”
Clark made the shot that put the Hawkeyes (15-8, 11-8 Big Ten Conference) ahead for good. She didn’t miss the rest of the game, either, burying two more 3-pointers and all eight of her free throws.
Clark had 35 points in the game, 19 in the fourth quarter, outscoring the entire Cornhusker team in the final 10 minutes to put an exclamation point on the most prolific rookie season in Hawkeye history. She needed just 23 games to get to 600 points on the season, finishing with 631, an average of 27.4 per game.
Clark was too much for Nebraska (11-11, 9-10), which was looking to jump Iowa in the seedings for the Big Ten tournament next week.
Instead, the Hawkeyes earned the six seed and will travel to Indianapolis for an 8 p.m. Wednesday opener against 11 seed Purdue. Third-seeded Rutgers awaits the winner at 8 p.m. Thursday. The Hawkeyes beat the Boilermakers at home 87-81 in their only meeting this winter.
Clark is no one-woman team, however, and that’s what bodes well for Iowa as it attempts to make a run at a tournament title.
One example: Martin also led Iowa with five assists Saturday.
One more: Gabbie Marshall played a team-leading 36 minutes, scoring 14 points while making 4 of 5 3-pointers. She also had three steals, pushing her season total to a team-leading 44. It was Marshall’s defense on Nebraska’s Sam Haiby that helped Iowa erase a seven-point deficit.
Haiby scored 28 points in Iowa’s 88-81 win in Lincoln last month. She had 14 Saturday, and just two of those came in the decisive fourth quarter, when she missed three of her four shots and had difficulty getting to the rim against Marshall.
“People say it always starts with me because I stop the ball,” Marshall said. “I love getting steals. That’s probably my favorite thing on the court.”
The Cornhuskers were scoring at will against Iowa through three quarters, making 25 of 45 shots (55.6%). They went 5-for-16 (31.3%) in the fourth quarter, rebounding only one of their 11 misses.
Iowa outscored Nebraska 25-15 to close out a needed win. The loss pushed the Cornhuskers to the eighth seed in the tournament, meaning if they beat Minnesota in their first game, top seed Maryland awaits.
“I think we just pressured them more,” Marshall said. “Boxing out is really what we stressed going into the fourth quarter, because they were getting o-boards and we just needed to get every rebound.”
Bluder said it wasn’t a specific skill that Iowa suddenly developed heading into the final quarter.
“I think it was more of, ‘Let’s get this done.’ It was more of an attitude change and ‘Let’s quit messing around and play some defense,’ ” she said. “And then we got stop after stop.”
Nebraska scored on just one of its first eight possessions in the fourth quarter. Clark eagerly took advantage of that offensive lapse to close things out. With a big assist from Martin to get it started.
Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.