With confidence booming, Iowa women's basketball readies for Nebraska's 3-point potential

Dargan Southard
Des Moines Register

IOWA CITY — Again operating with maximum confidence that this veteran unit can compete with anyone in the women’s basketball world, the No. 8 Hawkeyes look to keep momentum rolling through the Big Ten’s final month.

Toppling No. 2 will do that.

“It definitely gives us confidence,” senior guard Kate Martin said. “We showed a lot of maturity in that game.”

With Monday’s win over previously unbeaten Ohio State now secure — along with strong positioning near the top of the league standings — Iowa (16-4, 8-1 Big Ten Conference) will look to keep it rolling Saturday against Nebraska (12-8, 4-5). Even with snow in the Iowa City forecast and Fox televising this noon tipoff, the Hawkeyes expect another sizable crowd inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Iowa has won its previous six over the Cornhuskers, including three victories last year. The Hawkeyes haven’t lost to their western neighbors at home since Jan. 28, 2018.

That doesn’t diminish Nebraska’s potency, though. With ranked wins over Maryland and Kansas — as well as an overtime loss at conference leader Indiana — the Huskers own plenty of upset DNA if they get hot behind the arc.

“When they’re winning, their threes are falling,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “And when they’re not winning, the three hasn’t gone down as well for them. Our 3-point defense has got to be really, really important. When you’re guarding 4s and 5s who can shoot really well from three, it can be tricky at times.”

With Jaz Shelley and Alexis Markowski spearheading the attack — two starters averaging double figures while shooting better than 35% from deep — Nebraska is a much more dangerous foe than its pedestrian record indicates.

A microcosm of this is shown in Nebraska’s two matchups with Maryland this season — one on Dec. 4 and one last Sunday. En route to a 90-67 road win last month, Nebraska finished 12-for-25 from deep. But in last weekend’s rematch — a 69-54 Nebraska loss — the Huskers finished just 4-for-18 from beyond the arc.

Sometimes, it’s really that simple.

Iowa should feel decent about its chances to generate the less productive Nebraska version. The Hawkeyes have held their opponents to below 30% from deep this season (139-for-466, or 29.8%) That number is even slightly better in Big Ten play, where Iowa opponents are shooting just 28.4% from downtown (56-for-197).

The Iowa women celebrate their 83-72 win over Ohio State on Monday in Columbus. The Hawkeyes improved to 16-4 and 8-1 in the Big Ten.

Surviving Big Ten life on the road can be a daunting task, none more so than when foes enter Carver-Hawkeye Arena and often encounter the biggest crowd they’ve seen this season. Iowa has already had four home games with an attendance of 10,000+ and another five of 8,000+.

The effect of that, though is two-fold. Not only do the Hawkeyes have one of the true home-court advantages in women’s basketball, but Iowa doesn’t feel out of place when big crowds form to watch them on the road. Two of Iowa’s three best wins this year — at Michigan and at Ohio State — have come with more than 9,000 visiting fans in attendance.

“We’re used to it, and some people aren’t used it,” Bluder said. “You’re used to the noise and how to communicate when there’s that kind of noise. You can kind of fool yourself and think they’re cheering for you. But I think we are ready for those kinds of environments. And we have to be because it seems like everyone brings our their best promotions against us.”

Iowa's Caitlin Clark puts her arm around teammate Gabbie Marshall in the final seconds of Monday's victory at Ohio State.

Keeping Monday’s momentum flowing is essential if Iowa wants to land atop the conference and position itself best for the NCAA Tournament. The Hawkeyes have several tough showdowns ahead and know they get each team’s best shot every time out.

That should be the case again Saturday.  

“It’s on to the next,” guard Gabbie Marshall said, “and that’s just what it is in the Big Ten.”    

Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.