Nebraska and Iowa fans alike came to Pinnacle Bank Arena Sunday hoping to see Caitlin Clark set the NCAA women’s career scoring record on a nationally televised celebration of women’s basketball.
What they saw instead was a huge performance by the Cornhuskers, who rallied from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat #2 Iowa 82-79 and keep Clark 8 points shy of the record.
Nebraska (16-8, 8-5 Big Ten) earned its first win over a Top 25 opponent this season and its first over Iowa in 10 tries. A student-led court storming punctuated the afternoon.
Jaz Shelley’s 3-pointer with 30 seconds left gave Nebraska its first lead, and she made all four of her free throws to close out the Hawkeyes (22-3, 11-2).
“On a day like today, I’m just so proud to be the head coach at Nebraska and proud of this team and the way they showed great response throughout the fourth quarter and found a way to win,” Cornhuskers coach Amy Williams said.
Clark, who finished with 31 points, was held scoreless over the final 12 1/2 minutes. She missed her last six shots, including a 3 just ahead of the buzzer.
“Just didn’t execute down the stretch. It stinks,” Clark said.
Clark now has 3,520 career points and needs 8 more to pass Kelsey Plum’s record of 3,527 for Washington from 2013-17. She likely will break the record Thursday at home against Michigan.
Hannah Stuelke’s layup with 9:22 left gave Iowa its biggest lead, at 71-57. The Hawkeyes were outscored 25-8 to end the game.
Shelley, who finished with 23 points including five 3-pointers, gave the Huskers the lead when she launched a 3 from the right corner as the shot clock was winding down.
Clark’s 3-point try nicked off the front of the rim before Shelley made two free throws with 18.1 seconds left. Stuelke scored to make it 80-79, but Shelley hit two more shots from the stripe, and Clark and Kate Martin missed 3s at the end.
“Everybody’s going to give us their best shot. If you don’t know that at this point of the season …,” Clark said.
The crowd was split evenly between Nebraska and Iowa fans. “Let’s Go Hawks!” chants started before tipoff.
“Coming out and seeing more yellow at first kind of scary when you’re at home,” Nebraska’s Alexis Markowski said. “Husker fans really showed out. We took it as a challenge. We knew we were the underdogs in this situation. We gave it our all and came out on top.”
Nebraska kept it close in the first half and trailed just 39-35 at the break. Shelley made three 3-pointers, including two straight late in the second quarter to keep Iowa from pulling away.
Clark had 17 points in the first half, but her contributions on defense and as a facilitator were just as important. She ratcheted up her scoring in the third quarter, accounting for 14 points.
Nebraska switched Shelley and two other players on Clark defensively. The Huskers also double-teamed her up high and then went to a gimmick defense, the box-and-one, to shut her down late.
“It’s something we prepare for throughout the season, but we hadn’t necessarily prepared for it the last couple practices,” Clark said. “We should have been ready for it.”
An upset Iowa coach Lisa Bluder, standing outside the interview room, caused a brief pause in the postgame news conference with Nebraska players. She was angry because Nebraska players went into the interview room ahead of Iowa. Bluder took questions in an adjacent hallway while Caitlin Clark and Kate Martin addressed the media.
“We got a flight to catch!” Bluder yelled, prompting Nebraska’s Alexis Markowski to stop talking and look over her shoulder. “This is (expletive). This is not Big Ten protocol.”
She fired one more salvo, an apparent complaint about game presentation in the arena. “They play music while you shoot free throws.”
Nebraska: The game was the first women’s basketball sellout in program history. A few sellers on the secondary ticket market were asking as much as $2,000 for a seat in the lower bowl. The highest seats on one end of the arena were unfilled, though.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes dropped out of a tie for first place in the Big Ten with Ohio State.
Nebraska: At Ohio State on Wednesday.
Iowa: Hosts Michigan on Thursday.