March 12, 2024 

Sights and sounds of an epic Big Ten Tournament championship game

Iowa clawed back and defeated Nebraska in overtime for third straight title

MINNEAPOLIS — The Big Ten Tournament championship game Sunday at the Target Center had all the makings of a March classic — even before it began. A sold-out crowd of more than 18,500 energetic fans. Two rival border teams that split their regular-season contests. College basketball’s most dynamic player. It had it all, and it didn’t disappoint. 

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Playing its fourth game in four days, fifth-seeded Nebraska didn’t show any signs of fatigue as it took second-seeded Iowa to overtime before eventually falling 94-89 to the now-second-ranked Iowa. The game had 16 lead changes, eight by each side, with Nebraska leading for 33:56 and Iowa for just 8:45.

With the win, Iowa became the first Big Ten women’s team to win three consecutive tournament titles. But it didn’t come easy. After winning their first two games by an average of 30 points, Iowa trailed at the half (-11) for just the third time this season. Caitlin Clark, the most prolific scorer in NCAA Division I history, was held to just four points, shooting a dismal 2-of-13 from the field, including 0-of-9 from the 3-point line. 

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“Things weren’t always pretty. Things weren’t always great. Especially in the first half, I didn’t shoot the ball well,” Clark told reporters after the game. “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.”

Caitlin Clark of Iowa passes during Big Ten Championship game
Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) make a pass during the Big Ten Tournament championship game between Iowa and Nebraska at Target Center in Minneapolis on March 10, 2024. (Photo credit: John McClellan | The Next)

The reset was dramatic, as Clark scored 30 of her 34 points in the second half to become the tournament’s all-time leading scorer with 317 points in 13 games and tie  the Big Ten championship record with five three-pointers. She also dished out 12 assists and pulled down seven rebounds on her way to capturing her third straight tournament Most Outstanding Player award. 

“I think in the first half it wasn’t always the most fun. It was kind of frustrating at times,” she said. “I think that was kind of our problem. We weren’t really smiling and having fun. The second half we flipped what we were doing, flipped the script, and had a lot more fun. Things started going our way. We were just a lot more patient.”

Iowa had significant contributions from the rest of the team, too. Sophomore forward Hannah Stuelke added 25 points on 11-of-18 shooting and had nine rebounds, while graduate guard Kate Martin had 13 points and seven rebounds. Junior guard Sydney Affolter, making her first career start in the tournament due to Molly Davis’ knee injury, had an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double, earning her a spot on the All-Tournament team.  

“I’m so proud of Syd, stepping in the starting position and getting in the All-Tournament team,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. “She’s just been waiting. She’s been waiting for her chance.”

The win likely secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the Hawkeyes, a feat the program hasn’t achieved since 1992 under Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer. 

“I think we do deserve a No. 1 seed,” Bluder said. “If we don’t get it, oh well. It’s OK. That’s life. We can’t control that. But I think it would just mean a lot to our program and how far we’ve come to have that recognition.”

Iowa forward Hannah Stuelke smiles and runs down the court in the Big Ten championship game
Iowa forward Hannah Stuelke (45) reacts with teammates Sydney Affolter (3) and Gabbie Marshall (24) during the Big Ten Tournament championship game between Iowa and Nebraska at Target Center in Minneapolis on March 10, 2024. (Photo credit: John McClellan | The Next)

The come-from-behind, back-and-forth overtime win was a good test for the Hawkeyes as they prepare for the Big Dance. 

“If we want to reach our goals in March, we are going to find ways to win that aren’t always pretty. You’ve got to be resilient and gritty,” Clark said. “Everybody’s given us their best shot all year. Our team is very prepared for it. We have been through it. We’re ready for it. [I’m] just proud of our group. We weathered every storm we had. We kept fighting.”

The impressive four-day stretch for Nebraska also improved its seeding stock and confidence heading into the NCAA Tournament. 

“Our kids came here expecting to win, and nobody else really probably believed that we would even be in the championship game, much less have a chance to win it, but we believed,” a teary-eyed Nebraska head coach Amy Williams told reporters after the game. “Our locker room believed. Our whole team believed. I’m so proud of the contributions we got from our entire roster this entire tournament.”

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Graduate guard Jaz Shelley, who was named to the All-Tournament Team and most likely would have been the tournament’s MOP with a Huskers win, set a single tournament record with 16 3-point field goals, breaking a mark held by Kelly Mazzante of Penn State for 22 years. She was proud of the team’s composure, especially in a hostile environment that was dominated by Hawkeye fans. 

“We had the entire stadium against us and we were able to silence the crowd,” Shelley said. “I think we have to build off what we’ve just done. We played four games and an overtime, and I’m pretty sure we could go out and play another quarter if we wanted to. That’s something that’s going to be super important in the postseason, just to continue that belief we have in each other and that we can make a deep run in the NCAA and set ourselves up really well.” 

Nebraska’s bench during the Big Ten title game
The Nebraska bench and fans react to a 3-pointer at the Big Ten Tournament championship game between Iowa and Nebraska at Target Center in Minneapolis on March 10, 2024. (Photo credit: John McClellan | The Next)

Nebraska’s 89 points were the most scored by a losing team in the championship game. The Huskers also set a Big Ten championship record with 14 made 3-pointers, led by freshman guard Logan Nissley’s four, Shelley’s three and sophomore center Alexis Markowski’s perfect 2-of-2. 

With 23 points and 13 rebounds, Lincoln native Markowski tied a Nebraska record with her 40th career double-double, earning her a spot on the All-Tournament team. 

“Not only did we take them to overtime, we played a whole other game. This was our fourth game. This is their third,” Markowski said. “We’re just fighters. They’ll go on a run, and we just come back. I don’t know, we just are playing really well together. People are stepping up, making huge plays for each other. I wouldn’t want to be part of any other program.”

Coach Williams believes her team is peaking at the right time, implementing what they have been working on all season. 

“We’ve been preaching response, response, response,” she said. “How do you respond when things go good? How do you respond when things go bad? How do you respond when there’s adversity that comes through a season? How do you respond when there’s adversity that comes through a game?

“I’m just so proud of the way that they have responded. They shut out the noise, the outside noise, and just were able to lock in. Every single time it felt like we had an answer and we’re answering runs, and I think that just shows their commitment to wanting to have a positive response and do the next best thing on every step.”

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Headed into the NCAA Tournament, Clark, who has already declared for the WNBA Draft, realizes her storied college career is almost over and intends to make the most of it. 

“To me, this isn’t a farewell tour. This is just Iowa basketball having fun and playing the game,” she said. “I don’t want it to be all about me. I just want it to be us. I know in the back of my mind this could be my last game every single time I step on the court from here on out. My career has gone so fast, and I don’t want to miss any opportunities. I think there’s a lot of season left if we want to reach our goal.”

The NCAA Tournament selection will be announced at 6 p.m. CT on Sunday, March 17. Iowa is seeking its second straight Final Four appearance after reaching the national championship game in 2023, losing 102-85 to LSU.  

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2024 Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player

Caitlin Clark, Iowa

All-Tournament Team

Caitlin Clark, Iowa

Jaz Shelley, Nebraska

Laila Phelia, Michigan

Alexis Markowski, Nebraska

Sydney Affolter, Iowa

Written by Angie Holmes

Angela Holmes is the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) reporter for The Next. Based in the Midwest, she also covers the Big Ten and Big 12.

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