Nebraska finally broke through.
For three quarters, the matchup between the Huskers and No. 2 Iowa looked similar to many of the past meetings Nebraska had with the Caitlin Clark-led Hawkeyes.
Iowa went into the final period up 14, starting to pull away as its opponent fought respectably. Clark had cleared 31 points as she had in the eight other games against the Huskers. This time, she was eight points away from the all-time NCAA women’s basketball scoring record in front of a sellout crowd which included plenty of Iowa fans.
But then, things flipped. Nebraska roared back in the final quarter, coming within two points in the final minute. Fifth-year guard Jaz Shelley recovered a deflected pass from junior center Alexis Markowski on the perimeter, then went around Markowski’s screen and launched a three, hitting it for the lead.
That coerced a roar from the Husker fans in the crowd, and Nebraska finished things off as Shelley hit four free throws and Clark missed two threes. After Martin missed her attempt at the buzzer, fans flooded onto the floor. Iowa came into Lincoln as a top-two team in the country, and Clark entered on the cusp of history, and Nebraska finally took them down.
“On a day like today, just so proud to be the head coach at Nebraska,” head coach Amy Williams said postgame. “And proud of this team and the way they showed great response throughout the entire game all the way through the fourth quarter.”
As Williams said, Nebraska did battle throughout the contest, despite trailing for over 38 minutes of game time. The Huskers went down 14-6 early, then ended the opening quarter on a 7-2 run to keep it a three-point game. Darian White, coming off the bench and only playing 10 minutes in recovering from injury, contributed a bucket and put together a couple strong defensive possessions against Clark.
Iowa’s offense picked up the pace more in the second quarter, and Nebraska stayed within range as Shelley dropped eight points and the team’s three freshmen contributed 13 more.
After halftime, Iowa came out stronger in dominating the third quarter. A four-point play for Clark sparked a 9-2 Hawkeye run. Clark strung together five more points and found a teammate to extend the lead to 11. Late in the quarter, with Iowa up 10 and in the bonus, Clark drew a questionable foul on Jaz Shelley. Williams was assessed a technical for her arguing of it, and though two of the four ensuing free throws were missed, the extra possession helped Iowa grab a 14-point advantage heading into the final quarter.
If Nebraska was going to finally take down the Hawkeyes, a change was going to need to happen. And on the defensive end, it did.
The Huskers went to the “box and 1” defense, designed to have a player chasing a team’s top threat while the other four play a zone in a “box.” Clark, obviously that key offensive player, was forced into receiving less touches than usual and the Hawkeyes shot 11 of their 17 shots in the period from deep. They made just two threes and shot 2-for-6 inside the arc as well.
“Should’ve been ready for it, should’ve executed our offense better,” Clark said postgame.
Instead, Clark was held scoreless down the stretch, missing all six shot attempts. Wiliams credited Kendall Moriarty for her defense, while Shelley also made a few plays on that end as well.
Besides Shelley, freshmen Natalie Potts and Logan Nissley led the run. The former had eight points and five rebounds in the period, also deflecting a pass to a cutting player to prevent potential points. The latter, who was often defended by Clark, was the one to push it to a one-possession game.
She made one three, then after a Potts offensive rebound, launched another. The second might have been ill-advised, but Clark missed the ball and hit her arm in contesting it. That sent Nissley to the line, where she made two of three free throws.
Nebraska’s top guard closed it out from there, and that’s who Williams first made note of postgame.
“Players like Jaz Shelley, that we spent a long time you know, in the recruiting process, getting to know and talking about the vision for our program,” she said. “Being able to talk about, at some point, you know, we’re gonna sell Pinnacle Bank Arena out, we’re going to be playing in front of those types of crowds and doing special things with this program and elevating it.”
The coach was happy to see that come to fruition. Much of the noise about this game — aired on national TV on Super Bowl Sunday — surrounded Iowa and Clark’s pursuit of scoring records, but Williams’s team hoped to and succeeded in bringing some attention to the Huskers.
“We knew this was going to be a great opportunity on a big stage with a lot of eyes watching for us to do something special,” Williams said. “And for people to start talking about Nebraska women’s basketball.”