Iowa women's basketball heads to Big Ten Tournament title game behind Caitlin Clark's 41 points

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

INDIANAPOLIS — Scoring stability isn't what you'd expect two of the nation's top 10 offenses to need midway through a crucial postseason affair. The second half of the Big Ten Tournament's second semifinal became an Iowa-Nebraska battle of who could find their form fastest.

The Hawkeyes won the re-discovery race. 

Much like its quarterfinal win over Northwestern, second-seeded Iowa flipped the game in the third quarter Saturday and cruised by No. 6 seed Nebraska late. The final product was an 83-66 win that sends the Hawkeyes (22-7) to their third Big Ten Tournament title game appearance in the past four seasons. Iowa and Indiana will battle for a championship at 3 p.m. CT inside Gainbridge Fieldhouse. 

Finding its best offensive self was a more circuitous journey for Iowa than its two regular-season matchups against Nebraska. A choppy, inefficient first half from Caitlin Clark and her teammates made the objective clear entering the third quarter. 

Find the flow and make it stick.

"We kind of knew our first half wasn't our best. We knew we could be so much better," Clark said. "And that's what us players talked about before the coaches came in (at halftime) the . It wasn't our best, but we have a whole second half to turn that around. 

"That's exactly what we did."

It may have taken longer than Lisa Bluder wanted, but the Hawkeyes attack arrived in full force to fight off a pesky Nebraska squad hunting another upset. 

The revival started at the rim, where the Hawkeyes lived with easy looks, timely screens and often, uncontested points. Much of Clark's game-high 41 points came either driving downhill against an out-of-position Nebraska defense or draining from deep over the top of the Huskers.

"In the first half, I missed a couple bunnies that I usually make. Especially in the second half, that was my goal to get to the rim early," Clark said. "I was a little more patient and used my eyes to shot fake a little, because I thought they were expecting me to shoot it there to start the second half. 

"But once I get that edge, I'm pretty good at using my body to shield them off in a way. That's a big credit to coach Abby (Stamp), my position coach. That's what we worked on all summer, contact finishing. That's how it is in the Big Ten."     

After spending Friday's second half mainly dishing and rebounding, the Big Ten player of the year relentlessly attacked offensively en route to 22 second-half points on just 12 shots. That came after Clark needed 15 shots for 19 points in a first half that also included seven turnovers. 

If it wasn't Clark, Monika Czinano calmly took her clean looks and ran with them. The all-Big Ten center had 14 of her 22 points in the second half as well. Eight early points from Kate Martin kept Iowa afloat until the stars found their groove. 

Martin has hit a second gear in Indianapolis, upping her production across the board in areas that don't always shine through. Regularly referred to as Iowa's "glue" behind the scenes, Martin has saved time in the spotlight for one of the season's biggest stages. 

"People are really focused on Caitlin and Monika all the time and even Gabbie (Marshall) and McKenna (Warnock). They're all great shooters," Martin said. "And so when I can get the ball and take it to the hoop, I just do it and happen to make some of them.

"It's pretty fun."   

Nebraska, meanwhile, had zero fun on the offensive end it usually owns. The Huskers finished a dismal 3-for-26 from deep and shot just 35% on the night. Not good enough to keep up with one of basketball's fiercest offensive units. 

Now comes time for Iowa to get a third look at Indiana...all in the last two weeks. Both the Hawkeyes and Hoosiers entered this weekend looking to cement hosting spots for the NCAA Tournament, which both have likely done.

With a chance to add a another title to their regular-season championship, the Hawkeyes are once again taking full advantage of conference tournament weekend in preparation for loftier March goals.   

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.