By Susan Harman
Well, Caitlin Clark will break Kelsey Plum’s NCAA scoring record at home Thursday against Michigan. She only needs eight more points.
But the main mission to bring home a victory from Nebraska was scuttled by a woeful fourth quarter in which Iowa squandered a 14-point lead en route to an 82-79 loss. The loss drops Iowa out of a tie for the Big Ten lead with Ohio State and into a second-place tie with Indiana. Both IU and Iowa have two conference losses while OSU has one.
“Our goals are intact; we just have to get better every single day,” Clark said. “The biggest focus right now is finding ways to get better. Finding ways to grow. This is another case of us blowing another lead, and that’s something that has to stop.
“We still control our destiny at this point.”
How bad was the final quarter? The Hawkeyes scored just 10 points and gave up 27. Iowa made just four baskets out of 17 shots and didn’t get to the free-throw line. The Huskers made 8-of-15 shots, including three critical 3-point shots, and scored eight points at the foul line. Iowa committed four turnovers to one for the Huskers.
“This is pretty frustrating because we were controlling the game,” Kate Martin told Hawkeye Radio. “That’s frustrating with a mature team like this. I think it shows a little lack of leadership on my end, but also we have to play to win instead of playing not to lose. And I think we’ve been doing that whenever we’re up in situations in the fourth quarter.”
As Martin suggested the Hawkeyes also failed the eye test. They looked tired. They stood around as their offense stagnated. Nebraska changed defenses using a triangle-and-two and a box-and-one, the one being Clark, of course.
“We switched our defense up a little bit,” Nebraska coach Amy Williams said. “Went to kind of junk defense, a diamond with a player dedicated to Caitlin Clark. She’s so well-conditioned as an athlete. She moves so well with and without the basketball. It takes a lot for a player like Kendall Moriarty to stay with her. We were able to do just enough to come away with the win.”
“We had some incredible people off the bench that face-guarded her,” Nebraska’s Jaz Shelley said. “Our team adjusted really well to contain the other four players.”
Clark scored 31 points in the first three quarters and none in the fourth. But she wasn’t alone.
“The box-and-one really bothered us today, and I’m kind of surprised because we’ve done a really good job in practice against it,” Bluder told Hawkeye Radio.
“We should have been ready for it; we should have executed our offense better,” Clark said. “We have plenty of capable scorers on our team, but that’s what a box-and-one is. They are going to take me away. We have to find ways to get other people open. We didn’t cut; we didn’t get to our spots.”
Assistant coach Abby Stamp told Hawkeye Radio that the change in defenses “did rile us a little bit. But you know that’s on our coaching staff. We’ve got to be better about having them prepared to handle that.”
A Clark pass to Hannah Stuelke for a layup gave Iowa a 71-57 lead with 9:22 left in the game. Martin hit two threes and Stuelke made another layup, and that was it for the fourth period. Meanwhile Big Red scored on 12 of 18 fourth-quarter possessions.
Shelley had 10 points in the quarter, including two 3-pointers and made all four of her free throws. While heavily guarded she hit a three near the sideline with 31 seconds left to give Nebraska its first lead of the game 78-77. It was the biggest shot of the game.
After an Iowa timeout Clark launched a long three that missed with 21 seconds still remaining. Bluder did not look pleased with the shot selection out of the timeout.
“Honestly we were just trying to score at that point,” Clark said. “You’re down and you give yourself a chance for an offensive rebound.”
Iowa was forced to foul, and Shelley made all four of her free throws in the final 18 seconds to keep Iowa at bay.
The Hawkeyes still had the ball with a chance, trailing by three with 14.9 seconds left. But hurried, well-defended, deep threes by Clark and Martin missed the mark. Cue the court storming.
“We got really stagnant and then early nobody else was really willing to shoot the ball besides Kate and Caitlin,” Bluder said. “Hopefully we’ll learn from it.”
“We got away from Iowa basketball in the fourth quarter,” Martin said. “We were playing not to lose instead of playing to win. That’s really important down the stretch.”
Bluder wasn’t happy about being outrebounded by seven and outscored 17-4 on second-chance points. She also brought up the team’s 16 turnovers. In the first game between the teams Iowa only had 11.
“If we hadn’t had so many (turnovers) in the first quarter we could have just taken this game away,” she said.
Bluder said the team needs to get in the gym and get shots up to restore its lost confidence behind the arc. Iowa made 10-of-32 (.323) 3-point attempts Sunday.
“We also have to have more confidence in our post players,” she said. “Hannah Stuelke was 7-for-11 and Addy O’Grady was 2-for-4. We really need to get the ball in for some high-percentage shots.”
This critique came just three days after Iowa fed Stuelke enough for her to score 47 points. Then again against Penn State she wasn’t defended by Alexis Markowski and friends. Stuelke finished with 15 points. Clark had 31 points 10 assists and eight rebounds. Martin scored 20, 16 of which came in the second half.
Shelley led the Huskers with 23. Logan Nissley and Markowski had 15 apiece and Natalie Potts 14. Markowski grabbed 11 rebounds.
“The effort was there,” Stamp said. “We just didn’t necessarily have that joy and that confidence that we play with, that togetherness. For whatever reason that was just a little bit off today.”
Iowa is 22-3 overall and 11-2 in Big Ten play, while Nebraska is 16-8, 8-5.