Last week at Nebraska Iowa played one of its best offensive games of the season. The Hawks hit threes at a high rate, got to the basket throughout the game, and scored 95 points as a team. But despite that offensive outburst, Iowa only won the game by nine, because the Nebraska offense nearly matched them.
Coming into this game, then, there was reason for both optimism and concern. Optimism that Iowa’s offense would continue to do well against the Huskers. Concern that if Iowa didn’t shoot the lights out, that they could be in trouble if the defense didn’t come to play. Just before tip, the Hawks got another boost with the news that Jaz Shelley and Sam Haiby, two starters and significant players for the Huskers, would not play in the game.
Early on, it looked like Iowa and not Nebraska that was missing something. The Huskers started off on fire, hitting a trio of three-pointers and getting good looks in the paint. Iowa, meanwhile, was turning the ball over or missing shots on nearly every possession. Nebraska used that advantage on both ends to build an early 19-5 lead. Iowa finally started to score a bit toward the end of the quarter, but Iowa just couldn’t stop Nebraska. The Huskers kept on shooting well and led 30-14 at the end of one.
In the second quarter, Iowa finally showed up. Defensively, the Hawks worked hard to stay with their players, forced some turnovers, and grabbed rebounds on most missed shots. Offensively, Iowa attacked the basket and drew plenty of fouls. Iowa first cut the Nebraska lead to ten, then got it as low as six at 34-28.
But then Nebraska came right back, hitting threes on back-to-back possessions to extend the lead back to 12. Iowa again battled back, getting stops defensively and getting to the line on offense. A long scoring drought for Nebraska helped Iowa whittle the lead down to just five at 40-35 with a few minutes to play in the quarter. Iowa’s run continued into halftime, as the Hawks scored a few more times and cut Nebraska’s lead to 42-41. Nebraska had 16 halftime fouls compared to just one for Iowa.
Iowa’s momentum continued early in the third quarter, and the Hawks took their first lead at 54-53. But then Nebraska went on another run, building the lead back to seven points at 61-54. Again Iowa battled back, and took the lead 64-63 late in the third quarter. The Hawks took a 67-66 lead into the fourth quarter.
Early in the fourth quarter, Iowa grabbed momentum with consistently good possessions on both ends of the court. The defense was contesting every shot and forcing some turnovers. The offense was consistently getting looks at the basket and drawing fouls. Midway through the quarter, Iowa had their biggest lead of the game at 80-71.
Nebraska battled back again, cutting the gap to just three points at 84-81. But Iowa got an immediate response from Monika Czinano, and the Hawks got a couple defensive stops after that. The Hawkeyes ultimately closed out a 93-83 victory.
Caitlin Clark led Iowa with 31 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, 4 steals, and 2 blocks. She was a perfect 12-12 from the free throw line. Czinano also had a huge game, scoring 31 points, grabbing 6 rebounds, and going 9-10 from the line. Kate Martin (9 points, 7 rebounds) and McKenna Warnock (8 points, 8 rebounds) also had good games for Iowa. Nebraska had just 8 offensive rebounds after having 23 last Sunday. A box score for the game is here.
Defense Steps Up
It seems strange to focus on defense first in a game that Iowa surrendered 83 points, but it was Iowa’s defense in key moments that made the difference today. It started in the second quarter, where Iowa’s defensive effort helped the team get enough stops to get back in the game. Then in the fourth quarter, Iowa got crucial stops and turnovers early in the quarter that gave them a lead they would never relinquish.
Clark in particular had a great early fourth quarter on the defensive end, getting a couple blocks, a steal and run-out, and impacting several other possessions.
And some of Nebraska’s scoring wasn’t on the Iowa defense. The Huskers shot 14-30 from three, and several of those were from well beyond the three-point line. Iowa will gladly surrender shots like that to most opponents, because the vast majority of the time an opponent won’t shoot that well from three-point range.
Nebraska ended up with 28 team fouls compared to 7 for Iowa. The discrepancy was 16-1 at halftime. I mention the fouls here, because if the numbers were reversed, Iowa fans would be very upset.
I do think Nebraska has some complaint about how many fouls were called against them. In the first half especially, there were some calls that were questionable at best that benefited Iowa while the Hawks were down big.
That said, Iowa did attack the basket most of the game, whether with Czinano in the post or dribble penetration. Constantly attacking the basket is a great way to draw foul calls.
Nebraska, meanwhile, settled for jump shots on many possessions, and also turned the ball over 13 times. Iowa isn’t a team that fouls a lot anyway, but when you don’t attack the basket, you don’t put yourself in a position to draw many whistles.
Free Throw Shooting
A foul discrepancy doesn’t do a team any good if it doesn’t hit the free throws that come with those fouls. Coming into the game, Iowa was hitting free throws at an 86.7% rate. Today, the Hawks bested that, making 91%.
Monika Czinano’s free throws particularly impressed me. She hasn’t been a great free throw shooter for most of her career, but came into the game today shooting 85.4% from the line this season, and improved upon that today.
One other note: the broadcast mentioned that Iowa is leading basketball in free throw shooting. Not just women’s college basketball. All of basketball. No NBA, WNBA, men’s college basketball, or women’s college basketball team had a higher free throw percentage than this Iowa team. That’s a very impressive accomplishment, especially with how disjointed the season has been.
Iowa returns to action on Thursday, January 20 at 7 PM CT (BTN) on the road at Minnesota. The Gophers are 9-9 on the season and 2-4 in the Big Ten. They will likely not make the NCAA Tournament, so this is a game that Iowa really needs to win, even if though it's on the road.