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Electric Big Ten Championship Game Ends With Nebraska Falling Short in Overtime

by Mar 10, 2024Nebraska Womens Basketball

Electric Big Ten Championship Game Ends With Nebraska Falling Short in Overtime
Photo Credit: Eric Francis
Nebraska women’s basketball looked like it belonged on the big stage.

The Huskers came into Sunday’s Big Ten tournament championship match having played three games in the last three days, advancing further than any would have expected. The foe in the way of claiming the title was Caitlin Clark’s Iowa squad, having emerged victorious in this bracket the last two years and filling Minneapolis with Hawkeye supporters.

Nebraska had pulled this upset once in the regular season, but still looked to prove it was no fluke.

An 11-point halftime lead provided sufficient evidence. Iowa battled back quickly, but the Huskers answered every punch, leading by seven late. Even as overtime was forced and the Hawkeyes scored the first four points, Nebraska once again got back in front.

However, Iowa delivered in the big moments too. Clark scored 30 of her 34 points after halftime, and Iowa locked down the Huskers on key possessions late to seal another tournament title.

“This is heart-wrenching,” Nebraska head coach Amy Williams said postgame. “…Our kids came here expecting to win, and nobody else really probably believed that we would be in the championship game, much less have a chance to win it, but we believed.”

Nebraska opened up an 11-point lead early with a 12-0 run. That stretch featured three 3-pointers — all open shots — and strong defensive effort. Clark shot 1-for-8 in the opening period, passing the ball well but only scoring two points.

Despite that, the Hawkeyes trailed by just six at the end of the quarter. Hannah Stuelke battled with Husker posts Alexis Markowski and Natalie Potts all game, scoring five points in the first quarter while Markowski put up eight. It was Potts that dominated the next period, scoring 10 points and pulling down three offensive rebounds.

A 12-2 run was started with two Husker threes and ended with six Potts points to extend the lead back to double-digits. Gabbie Marshall, who has gained a reputation for delivering in March, hit a three late in the half, but Jaz Shelley responded with one of her own to make it 46-35 at the break.

Shelley had 10 points, four rebounds and three assists after two quarters, along with a block and a steal.

As one might expect, Iowa wasn’t shaken in the locker room by its poor play. Clark was a dismal 2-for-13 from the field, missing all nine threes she put up. Head coach Lisa Bluder knew she wouldn’t be held down for much longer. The Hawkeyes also used the road loss to the Huskers, in which they blew a double-digit lead, as fuel.

“They came back and got us, let’s do it to them this time,” Bluder said postgame about her halftime message.

It didn’t take long to see that Iowa wouldn’t make things easy. Clark’s first three of the game capped a 7-2 Hawkeye run to open the second half, cutting their deficit back down to six.

Nebraska had already proved a day ago it was prepared to stand firm against comeback pushes, though. Shelley responded to Clark’s three with one of her own. The Husker offense did go cold after that, scoring just one point in a span of over six minutes, but Iowa still needed to scratch and claw.

Clark finally gave her team the lead, scoring a layup with 2:17 remaining in the third. She shot free throws to end the quarter, too, but those merely tied the game after a Markowski three.

“Anything we tried, it seemed like they had an answer for,” Clark said postgame.

That continued to be the case late as more blows were traded. Clark and Stuelke made plays, as did Potts, Shelley, Markowski and others.

For a moment, it seemed like Nebraska finally broke free with a 12-2 run. Threes from Callin Hake and Logan Nissley were followed by back-to-back buckets from Markowski.

Approaching two minutes left to play, the Huskers went for the kill. Hake, a strong 3-point shooter who had been playing well, found herself open early in the shot clock and fired. It missed, and Clark nailed a three at the other end to get back within striking distance.

A fastbreak layup from Stuelke and a Kate Martin three helped make it a one-possession game again. Nissley airballed her own shot at a potential dagger, and Clark took Shelley all the way to the rim to tie the game with 30 seconds left.

Nebraska’s final possession went poorly, as Shelley was forced to swing a tough pass to Nissley and the freshman couldn’t convert. Target Center erupted in cheers, and did so again as Iowa scored the first five points of overtime.

Once again, there were answers upon answers. Nissley capped a 7-0 run with a go-ahead three, and Martin responded with one. Nissley hit another, and Clark was there to do the same on the other end.

Iowa was able to finally seal the game with defense. Its lead extended back to two possessions thanks to Clark picking off a Shelley pass and hitting free throws. Marshall blocked Nissley on the next possession.

Nebraska still found itself with a chance. Stuelke missed two free throws, and Markowski’s layup was followed by Martin missing the second of two foul shots in a three-point game. Stuelke grabbed that rebound, however, barely avoiding a jump ball call before redeeming herself with two makes at the line.

The Huskers couldn’t get a shot off to end the game, Clark grabbing another pass before the buzzer expired and running to the other end of the floor to celebrate.

Nebraska, playing its fourth game in four days, fell on the wrong side of an instant classic. Williams and players arrived to the postgame press conference still emotional, but proud of their improbable run.

The team had likely already secured NCAA Tournament status coming in, but truly made an impression with wins over Michigan State and Maryland before the championship battle.

Shelley and Markowski both made the all-tournament team. The fifth-year guard finished the game with 16 points, 13 assists, two blocks and two steals, while Markowski scored 23 points and grabbed 13 boards. Potts shined in the final, too, with 21 points and nine rebounds before fouling out.

The Huskers played some of the best basketball they have all season in this tournament, and plan on taking that momentum into the national bracket.

“Obviously it sucks because we really feel like we could have won that game, but we’ll be good,” Shelley said. “It’s going to sting for a little bit, but this team is special.”


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