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Isabelle Bourne led three Huskers in double figures with 16 points but it was not enough to overcome a huge game from Iowa’s Caitlin Clark in an 83-66 Nebraska loss in the semifinals of the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Saturday evening.
The sixth-seeded Huskers also got 15 points apiece from guards Sam Haiby and Jaz Shelley, but Nebraska could not muster enough energy for a second straight second-half comeback in the setback to the AP No. 12 and second-seeded Hawkeyes (22-7). Iowa snapped a five-game Nebraska winning streak entering the semifinals.
Nebraska (24-8), which closed the Big Ten Tournament 2-1 including its second win of the season over AP No. 10 Michigan on Thursday, will wait for the 2022 NCAA Division Women’s Basketball Championship bracket to be revealed during the Selection Show on Sunday, March 13 at 7 p.m. (CT). The 68-team bracket announcement will be televised live by ESPN.
Nebraska led 20-17 at the end of the first quarter, before Iowa rallied to take a 38-35 halftime lead. Bourne powered the Huskers in the half with 13 points, including 11 in the opening quarter. NU cut the Iowa margin to 38-37 to open the second half, before Clark and the Hawkeyes methodically pulled away to build a 66-53 lead at the end of three quarters in just their second game of the tournament after earning a double-bye as one of the tournament’s top-four seeds.
The Huskers, who hit 23-of-49 (.469) three-pointers over their first two wins in Indianapolis, went just 3-for-26 (.115) against the Hawkeyes. Nebraska managed just 26-of-74 (.351) shooting and hit 11-of-15 free throws in the game. NU won the turnover battle, 13-9, and outscored Iowa 18-8 in points off turnovers, but Iowa controlled the glass 43-37 against a Big Red squad that entered the game with better than a plus-seven rebound margin on the season – the second-best average in the Big Ten.
“We are not going to use three games in three days as an excuse, or tired legs or whatever, because we know that was the challenge in front of us,” Nebraska Coach Amy Williams said. “We just struggled to keep the dribbler in front of us and we didn’t do a good enough job on the boards to beat a very good Iowa team. The good news is that we have more basketball in front of us in the NCAA Tournament and we have some time between this tournament and that tournament to focus on some details and become a better basketball team.”
Shelley, a second-team All-Big Ten guard in her first season with the Huskers, knocked down all three of NU’s three-pointers on the night to finish with a school record 14 threes in three conference tournament games. She added a pair of rebounds to reach 200 boards on the season, becoming just the third Nebraska guard since the turn over the century to pull down 200 rebounds in a season. She also contributed five assists and two steals on the night.
Haiby added eight rebounds and three assists while her 15-point performance marked her seventh consecutive Big Ten Tournament game in double figures in her career. Her 106 career points in seven tournament games trail only the career totals of All-Americans Jordan Hooper (184) and Lindsey Moore (110) in Nebraska’s Big Ten Tournament history (since 2012).
Big Ten Freshman of the Year Alexis Markowski added seven points and nine rebounds to close her first conference tournament with averages of 11.7 points and 9.0 rebounds. Fellow freshman Allison Weidner pitched in six points and three rebounds against Iowa. Graduate student MiCole Cayton sparked the Huskers off the bench for the second straight game with five points.
Not only did Nebraska lead 20-17 at the end of the first quarter, the Huskers built their biggest lead at 28-22 after a Shelley three-pointer with 6:21 left in the half.
But Clark answered with eight straight points that included a pair of three-pointers to shoot Iowa to a 30-28 lead. The Hawkeyes capped a 10-0 run with an Addison O’Grady layup, before Bourne stopped the run with her only basket of the second quarter. Fifteen seconds later, Shelley put NU back in front with a traditional three-point play to make it 33-32 with 2:45 left. The Huskers held their last lead of the game at 35-34 after a Haiby layup with 1:35 left, before Iowa scored the final four points of the half.
Nebraska hit just 32.6 percent (14-43) of its first-half shots, including just 1-of-12 threes, but did hit 6-of-7 free throws. The Huskers held Iowa to just 39.4 percent (13-33) shooting and 4-of-14 three-pointers (.286), while hitting 8-of-10 free throws in the half. Iowa out-rebounded the Huskers 28-23, but NU won the first-half turnover battle 8-4. The Hawkeyes had an opponent season game high seven blocked shots in the first half alone.
Clark led Iowa with 19 in the first half despite hitting just 4-of-15 field goal attempts. Clark was 8-for-8 from the free throw line and added five rebounds and three assists but committed seven turnovers.
In the second half, Clark stepped up her efficiency, going 9-of-12 from the field with just two turnovers as Iowa surged ahead for its third win of the season over the Huskers. Nebraska was never able to cut the margin closer than 12 points in the fourth. Clark’s 42 points matched the Nebraska opponent record set by Iowa State’s Tonya Burns (Jan. 18, 1984) and matched by Minnesota’s Laura Coenen later that same calendar year (Nov. 30, 1984). It was the first 40-point performance by an NU opponent since Cathy Steen (Grandview) scored 41 against the Huskers on Dec. 9, 1985. Clark also had 39 points against Nebraska on Feb. 11, 2021.
All-Big Ten center Monika Czinano contributed 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting for the night, while Kate Martin added a strong all-around game for the Hawkeyes with eight points, a game-high 11 rebounds and five assists.
As a team, Iowa finished at 51.7 percent (31-60) from the field and 30 percent (6-20) from three-point range while hitting 15-of-20 free throws.
The Hawkeyes advance to Sunday’s Big Ten Championship game against No. 5 seed Indiana, after the Hoosiers knocked off top-seeded Ohio State in Saturday’s first semifinal.