By Ben Pickman, Sabreena Merchant and Mitch Sherman
Caitlin Clark’s chase for the NCAA women’s all-time scoring record will continue for at least another game.
The Iowa guard finished Sunday’s game at Nebraska just shy of the record, now needing only eight points to surpass former Washington star Kelsey Plum’s mark of 3,527 points. Clark is all but ensured of setting the record at home Thursday against Michigan. She entered the game against the Cornhuskers needing 39 to pass Plum points but finished with 31 points in Nebraska’s 82–79 upset victory.
If not in Iowa City, Lincoln would have been an almost fitting place for Clark to set the record. She entered Sunday with 287 career points against Nebraska, the most she has tallied against any single opponent. In her eight prior meetings against them, she had never scored fewer than 30 points.
“There’s not been a women’s basketball player who has captured the imagination of all sports fans,” longtime Nebraska radio play-by-play announcer Matt Coatney told The Athletic. “Husker fans recognize that. They may not completely like her, but there’s some begrudging respect.”
GO DEEPER Caitlin Clark’s green-light range made her the gold standard in women’s college basketball
Nebraska sold out the game against Iowa weeks ago, the first for a women’s basketball game in the 11-year history of the 15,500-seat Pinnacle Bank Arena. Then, right from the start, Clark made her presence felt. Although she missed her first 3-point attempt, she scored on Iowa’s third possession and its subsequent possession too. Clark ended the first quarter with seven points. She finished the first half with 17 points and seven assists, one of which gave her 1,000 for her career and made her one of just six players ever to reach that plateau.
The Cornhuskers remained in striking distance, however, and trailed by only 4 heading into the locker room.
While Iowa pushed its lead to 14 heading into the fourth quarter, Nebraska, led by guard Jaz Shelley and center Alexis Markowski, opened the period on a 10-2 run. While holding Clark scoreless for the entirety of the period, — Sunday marked the first time Clark has played an entire fourth quarter and not scored — the Cornhuskers ended up taking their first lead with 32 seconds to play when Shelley knocked down a 3-pointer. Nebraska would close the game on a 12-2 run in the final 3:10 to pull off the major upset.
With five seconds remaining, Clark missed her final 3-pointer of the day, setting off a euphoric scene in Lincoln. Fans stormed the court as the Cornhuskers defeated the Hawkeyes for the first time since December 2019.
Shelley led her team with 23 points, and five assists, while Markowski recorded a 15-point, 11-rebound double-double.
Clark’s next opportunity will come against the Wolverines, another program she’s had significant success against. In four games against Michigan, Clark has averaged 34.8 points and 8.2 assists on 55.6 percent shooting from the field. It’s a safe bet that history will be made sometime after 8 p.m. ET when the game tips off. And although gameplay did not stop when Clark became the Big Ten’s all-time leading scorer in late January — “Honestly, I didn’t even know at what point it occurred,” Clark said afterward — expect a deserving ovation from Carver-Hawkeye Arena if she makes history.
“It’s nice to have something that people can be happy about and joyful about,” coach Lisa Bluder said last month about Clark’s record chase.
But after Sunday’s loss, Bluder was more angry than happy. She was seen yelling at a Nebraska official in the hallway outside the news conference about music in the arena being played during free throws. Iowa missed six of its 15 free throw attempts, but Clark later said she didn’t notice the music.
How Nebraska pulled off the upset
Nebraska turned up the defensive pressure in the fourth quarter, denying Clark the ball while also disrupting Iowa’s trademark offensive motion. The Hawkeyes attempted 17 field goals in the final period, but the majority were late-clock efforts after the ball stuck for the bulk of the possession. The only time Iowa even got the ball in the paint over the final three minutes was a Hannah Stuelke layup with 18 seconds to play when the Cornhuskers were deliberately denying a game-tying three.
Meanwhile, Nebraska executed impeccably and hit some clutch shots to win the quarter 27-10. Logan Nissley responded to Kate Martin’s 3-pointer that put the Hawkeyes up seven, immediately getting the lead back down to four. She hit two more free throws after that, setting the stage for Shelley to hit one of the biggest shots of her career. With Gabbie Marshall draped over Shelley, Markowski screened Marshall to give Shelley a sliver of space going to her right. She drained the 3-pointer to put the Cornhuskers up one with 31 seconds to go, a lead they would not relinquish thanks to Shelley nailing four free throws in the final seconds.
Nebraska was sitting on the bubble heading into this matchup. A win over the country’s no. 2 team puts them squarely into the field of 68 with one month before Selection Sunday. — Sabreena Merchant, women’s basketball staff writer
What this says about the Huskers
Nebraska coach Amy Williams said she saw a look in the eyes of her players in their fourth-quarter huddles that conveyed they would not shrink in the moment at the Huskers’ sold-out Pinnacle Bank Arena for the first time at a women’s game.
Williams said the victory shows that people within the Big Ten and nationally “should also be talking about Nebraska women’s basketball.” — Mitch Sherman, Nebraska staff writer
(Photo: Steven Branscombe / Getty Images)
By Ben Pickman, Sabreena Merchant and Mitch Sherman