Caitlin Clark's latest 30-point barrage sends Iowa women's basketball past Nebraska
Caitlin Clark and her Iowa women’s basketball cohorts have developed a reputation of being finishers. A year ago, they used a late push to storm to Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles. And as another February nears a close, here come the Hawkeyes again.
Seventh-ranked Iowa won for the 11th time in 12 games since Jan. 1 and completed a season sweep of Nebraska with an 80-60 decision Saturday afternoon that wasn't really that close in front of a record crowd of 14,289 at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln.
"When you have a road win and win by 20 points in the best attendance ever for their program ... that's a good road win," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said.
Playing in front of about 25 family members and friends, Clark delivered yet another show-stopping performance. The junior point guard continued her march toward national player of the year honors by rolling up 30 points to go with five rebounds and eight assists. The output was Clark’s eighth game of the season with 30-plus points and her 14th game with at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists.
"I love playing in front of a big crowd, and I have a lot of family from the state of Nebraska that’s always here supporting us," said Clark, who has recorded at least seven assists in 11 consecutive games. "I feel like we play them pretty well every time. And Nebraska, they put up a good fight.”
Iowa's Monika Czinano tossed in 20 points on 10-of-13 shooting with seven rebounds, and Kate Martin was the third Hawkeye in double figures with 10 points and six assists.
Iowa (22-5, 14-2 Big Ten) remained one game behind league-leading Indiana (25-1, 15-1) as it heads into the final week of the regular season. Indiana faces Purdue on Sunday, and Iowa travels to third-place Maryland on Tuesday. Then the Hoosiers and Hawkeyes square off next Sunday in a 1 p.m. showdown at Carver-Hawkeye Arena with ESPN’s “College GameDay” crew in attendance. By winning out, Iowa would guarantee a share of the regular-season Big Ten title for the second straight year.
As it pertains to finishing, the Hawkeyes sucked the life out of “The Bank” at the end of the first quarter as Gabbie Marshall’s corner 3-pointer gave Iowa a 21-14 lead.
Then, after Nebraska had pulled into a 31-31 tie, Iowa finished the first half on a 9-2 flurry – with five points coming in the final 43 seconds in dramatic fashion. First, Clark uncorked a signature “logo” 3-pointer from the shaded state of Nebraska about 35 feet out. And then she slipped a gorgeous feed to Czinano for a half-ending layup and 40-33 Iowa lead.
When these teams met Jan. 28 in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes held off a tense Husker challenge to survive, 80-76. There was no such drama this time.
Iowa blistered the nets to start the second half and finished the third quarter with a 61-47 advantage after shooting 8-for-12 from the floor and 4-for-4 from the line.
“We came out in that third quarter, and just didn’t really let them back in it," Iowa associate head coach Jan Jensen said on the postgame radio show. "We did what we were supposed to do.”
And in the fourth quarter, the shots would keep falling for the Hawkeyes. That included from freshman Taylor McCabe, a native of Fremont, Nebraska. Her left-corner 3-pointer with 3:12 remaining pushed Iowa's lead to 78-49, capping a 17-2 flurry to start the fourth.
Lost in the tremendous offensive numbers for Iowa (54.2% shooting, including 10-for-20 on 3-pointers) was that the often-maligned defense was there on Saturday. That fact was not lost on Clark, as Iowa held Nebraska to 7-for-33 accuracy from 3 (21.2%), with three of those makes coming in the inconsequential final three minutes.
“I think we played all zone in the second half, and that caused them a lot of problems," Clark said. "We knew coming into this came we could play zone defense, even against a team with good 3-point shooters. We really spread it out and take away the 3-point line.”
Another hostile road environment awaits the Hawkeyes on Tuesday. The third-place Terrapins are expected to have a big crowd at the Xfinity Center in a top-10 showdown (7 p.m. CT, Big Ten Network).
“Our team has been pulling in some of the best crowds these arenas have ever had," Czinano said. "We’re getting an opportunity to come out and … and win in some really intense environments, and that’s just preparing us as best we can for March.”
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 28 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.