Caitlin Clark peeked her head into the room, realizing she’d have to wait, in the hallway, before talking to nearly 40 reporters.
Most of them had traveled to Nebraska, on Super Bowl Sunday, for Clark’s coronation. And for three quarters of No. 2 Iowa’s stunning 82-79 loss to NU, Clark looked primed to both break the NCAA’s career scoring mark for women’s basketball and run her personal record against the Huskers to 9-0.
Clark had 31 points when the fourth quarter began, needing eight more to sit alone atop the NCAA record books. Her team led by 14. She never scored again, the Hawkeyes blew that lead and, when it was time for Clark to talk, the winning Nebraska basketball players were already at the microphones.
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder erupted in the hallway as the coronation turned briefly into chaos.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Bluder said loudly enough to silence Nebraska center Alexis Markowski, who looked nervously toward the door. “We’ve got a flight to catch. This is (expletive). This is not Big Ten protocol!”Bluder never returned to the media room. Clark did, shaking her head as she walked in. She missed all six shots — four from 3-point range — over the final 10 minutes, the result, she said, of a box-and-one defense Nebraska deployed to start the fourth quarter.
The concept is simple: One player follows Clark around like her shadow while the other four play zone.
“It’s something we’d prepared for all throughout the season,” Clark said. “Hadn’t necessarily prepped for it the last couple of practices but should have been ready for it.”
Iowa missed 13-of-17 shots in the quarter, including 3-pointers, in the final 10 seconds, that would have sent the game to overtime. Clark fired the first of those, one of her patented step-back jumpers from the left wing, that drew iron.
“You watch her shoot it and hope it doesn’t go in,” Nebraska guard Jaz Shelley said. The next one, from Iowa guard Kate Martin, missed, too.
And so Iowa lost its rivalry grip, for one afternoon, on Nebraska. Hawkeye fans, hoping to see Clark surpass Washington’s Kelsey Plum for the career scoring record, waited for hours outside Pinnacle Bank Arena with general admission tickets. They comprised roughly half of the 15,042 fans, yelling “Let’s Go Hawks!” and shrieking with each Clark make.
Markowski called the atmosphere “kind of scary.” Usually, it’s Nebraska fans invading the home arenas of other schools. Not Sunday.
Iowa had it on a platter, too, after 30 minutes of game time. Ahead 69-55. Cruising. The scoring record in sight. What happened?
“We got away from Iowa basketball in the fourth quarter,” senior guard Kate Martin said. “We’ve been playing to not lose instead of playing to win.”
“Just get comfortable sometimes,” Martin said. “Then you, I dunno, might not be cutting as hard, crashing (the boards), you get complacent sometimes.”
Especially when Nebraska deploys what coach Amy Williams called a “junk” defense. Shelley — a Clark rival who scored 10 of her 23 points in the fourth quarter — saw it work.
“We had some incredible people off the bench who went in and face-guarded her,” Shelley said. “And I think our team adjusted really well off the ball to try and contain the other four players.”
Clark said Iowa failed to execute its offense very well against the defenses. Players didn’t cut and move fast enough. And all of the Iowa players — especially Clark — missed open looks.
She conceded she was a little congested, but that didn’t affect her play much. Neither did one of Bluder’s complaints — that Nebraska’s in-house production team played music during Iowa free throws.
And neither did the looming scoring record. She should break it Thursday when Iowa hosts Michigan.
“Has not been a distraction at all,” Clark said. “It is what it is. It’s what comes with the territory. When it happens, it happens. Really not going to affect my life that much. Just going to go about my business like I have the past four years.”
Clark is a senior now and has learned a few things. Like taking a tough quarter in stride. Iowa still, she said, can achieve all of its goals of Big Ten and national titles.
“Don’t let one bad loss ruin the rest of however many games we have left,” Clark said.