LINCOLN — The largest crowd of the year wasn’t quite enough to fuel Nebraska women's basketball to back-to-back wins over ranked opponents.
Nebraska fell 95-86 to No. 22 Iowa on Sunday.
A win after the Huskers’ shellacking of No. 8 Michigan on Tuesday likely would have guaranteed a spot in the AP Top 25. Instead, Nebraska falls to 2-2 in Big Ten play with just its second loss of the season.
The Huskers trailed for much of the game but remained within striking distance even as the Hawkeyes made two-thirds of their shots through much of the first three quarters. Although its lead hovered around one to two possessions for most of the game, Iowa (8-4, 2-1) led for over 38 minutes.
Nebraska finally took a 79-78 lead with 6:41 left in the game off a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Ashley Scoggin, and the crowd reached a crescendo as the Huskers capped a 7-0 run. But the Hawkeyes quickly wrested back control with a 10-2 run. Soon after, Iowa center Monika Cziznano landed the final blow with back-to-back lay-ins to go up eight. The Hawkeyes made four of their final five shots, while Nebraska made one of its last nine.
Aside from forcing turnovers, the Huskers’ defensive performance against the red-hot Hawkeyes gave the middling-shooting offense little chance for success. In a high-tempo contest, the Huskers largely made the plays to give their offense a sliver of a chance despite the difference in shooting performances, but they needed to do more.
“We definitely learned that defense wins games,” sophomore guard Jaz Shelley said. “There was a lot of plays, like Coach said, that we didn’t follow the scout (scouting report). There was a lot of things we could have done differently, effort plays, if we went back, we would’ve done different.”
The crowd of 8,415 was one of Nebraska’s 20 largest ever and drew praise from both teams for the game environment.
“That crowd was insane,” Shelley said. “Husker nation, we’re really happy and proud that we have fans supporting women’s basketball, and I’m really grateful for that.”
In a rare twist, the Huskers, who rank in the top 11 nationally in both field goal percentage and opponent field goal percentage, were outshot by a significant margin. Nebraska shot 40%, compared with 62% for Iowa, but managed to stay in the game by dominating the offensive glass (23 offensive rebounds to Iowa’s five) and the turnover battle (15-9).
Second-chance opportunities were instrumental to the Huskers keeping pace with Iowa’s shooting. With the extra tries and forced turnovers, Nebraska totaled 83 field goal attempts to Iowa’s 60. Freshman center Alexis Markowski played a big part in that in her second career start; she tallied 14 points and eight rebounds, five of them on the offensive glass.
In scoring 31 points, with eight rebounds and 12 assists, All-American Iowa guard Caitlin Clark gave a performance reminiscent of her 39-point near triple-double eruption in Iowa’s last win at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
“I enjoy playing here,” Clark said. “I knew the crowd was gonna be pretty good. And I love that. I kind of was getting into it with them a little bit. I think for women’s basketball, that’s exactly what you need.”
The Hawkeyes’ three leading scorers accounted for 78% of the team’s points, as Cziznano pitched in 20 points and forward McKenna Warnock made 7 of 9 3-pointers in finishing with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
Warnock made most of Iowa’s 3-pointers, as the Hawkeyes shot 57.9% on 19 attempts. Meanwhile, the Huskers converted nine of a whopping 34 tries, good for 26.5%. Scoggin was the most consistent from range, hitting 3 of 7 tries for 13 points. Meanwhile, Shelley converted just 1 of 8 but still finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Junior guard Sam Haiby led the Huskers with 20 points.
It’s notable that Nebraska can stay in a game when an opponent is shooting more than 20 percentage points higher. And the Huskers have a lot of paths to success, as evidenced by their presence in the national top 25 in a number of team statistics (points per game, assists, assist-turnover ratio, blocks, defensive rebounds, field goal percentage).
For the most part, the Huskers rose to the occasion and made the requisite hustle plays, but they couldn’t match an incendiary shooting performance. One thing coach Amy Williams can hang her hat on is her team’s willingness to compete.
“Up to this point we’ve really shown a consistent willingness to fight,” she said. “Sometimes good teams level off. Great teams continue to find ways to keep getting better.”
Another week of Big Ten play presents the opportunity for that improvement. The Huskers will have a chance to avenge their loss shortly, as they visit the Hawkeyes next Sunday. Before then, they head No. 6 Indiana on Thursday.