Caitlin Clark finished 34 points despite a rough first half.

The No. 3 and second-seeded Iowa women’s basketball team escaped the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 94-89, for the Hawkeyes’ third-straight Big Ten Championship inside Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Sunday.

Caitlin Clark, despite scoring just four points in the first half on 0-for-9 from deep, finished the game with 34 points on 12-of-29 from the field and 5-of-17 from deep with seven rebounds and 12 assists.

Iowa players and coaches celebrate after the overtime win against Nebraska of NCAA college basketball game in the final of the Big Ten women's tournament Sunday, March 10, 2024, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

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Forward Hannah Stuelke finished with 25 points on 11-of-18 from the field and nine rebounds. Guard Kate Martin scored 13 points — all four makes from the field coming from three — and seven boards, and fellow guard Sydney Affolter poured in 11 points with 11 boards for the double-double.

Gabbie Marshall, one of the last Hawkeyes you’d want to leave open for three, opened the scoring in the first quarter with an uncontested trey.

But Clark missed her first six shots as the Cornhuskers also wanted the three — their cash cow this tournament. One from center Alexis Markowski was quite unexpected but hurt Iowa that much more as Nebraska opened with a 21-9 lead.

Offensive boards — nine in the first half — down low gave the Cornhuskers too many second- and third-chance looks, a simple matter of who wants it more. And Nebraska did for much of the first half.

But a three from second-year guard Taylor McCabe gave the Hawkeyes a boost upward to cut the Cornhusker lead to 23-17 going into the second.

Still, Nebraska’s height across the board aided its desire to persistently attack the paint with physicality. But the Hawkeyes returned the pressure down low, Clark opting for a layup as she continued to miss from deep — and quickly became visibly frustrated with it.

But eight Clark assists in the first half kept both her teammates going and this game closer than maybe it should have been. So with Jaz Shelley’s second Husker three coming at buzzer, Nebraska held a 46-35 lead at half.

Here we go

The Hawkeyes flipped the switch to open the second half.

A step-back mid-range from Clark got her going, and a deep three finally broke the cold streak. From there, she got into the groove she’s known for, pushing the offensive pace on her own terms.

“There’s good days; there’s bad days; there’s great shooting days; there’s not as good,” Clark said. “When you’re in a championship environment, you have to let it go and move on to the next. At halftime, I reset my mind, let it go. I knew some shots weren’t going to go in. That’s just how it works.


“Obviously, I’m proud of myself,” she added. “I’ve put a lot of work into being able to do that and letting things go and relying on my teammates and not pressing as much. Honestly, that might be one of the things I’m most proud of over my entire career.”

But a pair of bad turnovers slowed Iowa down, Nebraska speeding the Hawkeyes up and making it difficult for them to play at their own pace, and another Shelley three kept the Cornhuskers active.

Tight, aggressive Hawkeye defense down the stretch made the Cornhuskers frantic in really struggling to get easy looks, in turn shrinking their lead to 52-51 with two minutes left in the third quarter. Then a back-and-forth exchange of buckets ensued, the two teams ultimately tied at 58 apiece for an exciting final quarter.

“You’ve just got to wipe it, let it go, come back, and respond,” Clark said of the rough first half. “I think the biggest thing was we just started running our offense in the second half. It was a lot better. It was a lot cleaner. We got good looks. We made a few more shots.”

That ping pong game continued into the fourth period, Clark facilitating offensive movement but Markowski ever-persistent in the paint on the other end.

Clark danced around the top of the key, seemingly clamped by Nebraska’s Kendall Moriarty, but she quickly hopped back to her left for a three that splashed through the net and put Iowa up two.

But a pair of Nebraska threes back-to-back but the Cornhuskers back up four, and the Hawkeyes were unable to convert on a handful of possessions in the final three minutes of the quarter.

A charge drawn on Clark led to desperation, although she hit a big three to cut Nebraska’s lead to five and force a timeout. From there, she found Stuelke down the court for a transition layup to cut the lead to three. After a Markowski layup, Iowa’s Kate Martin hit a massive corner three to make it a two-point game.

Iowa’s ball, Clark maneuvered her way down into the paint for a layup to tie it at 77 apiece.


Five-minutes to win it

Unselfish ball movement helped the Hawkeyes get out to a five-point lead early on, but the Cornhuskers responded with seven unanswered points for a lead by just two halfway through the period.

Martin, for some reason left wide open on the wing and dared to shoot, hit her second three of the game to retake the lead by a point, and a Clark free throw made it two.

Nebraska’s Logan Nissley responded with her own second three of the overtime, but Clark found separation to put Iowa up yet again by two. An interception in the passing lane forced an intentional foul, sending her to the free throw line that made Iowa’s lead four.

Cornhusker ball, 37.2 seconds left, Marshall stuffed Nissley’s three-point attempt, and a Stuelke’s offensive board and made free throws put Iowa up five, sealing the deal on a third-straight Big Ten Tournament Championship.

“I think it was really gritty and resilient out of our group,” Clark said. “We just found a way to win, and that speaks to the team that we have, the maturity we have on this group.”

Up next

The Hawkeyes will take a week off from game action in preparation for the NCAA Tournament. They will hear their seeding announced on Selection Sunday on March 17 with the first round coming on March 22 and 23.

ESPN currently projects Iowa to be the one seed in the Albany region, meaning the Hawkeyes would host the first two rounds of the tournament inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

“I think our group knows well enough that the NCAA Tournament is the best postseason tournament in all of sports,” Clark said. “If you don’t have it for one night, your season’s over in the blink of an eye. We’re really only guaranteed one more game as a team, so you’ve got to come in and prepare every single day like it’s your last. I know this team will do that.”