Before the stretch run and Indiana and GameDay, it’s ‘Nebraska first’

1 month ago The Gazette

Hawkeyes need a win at Lincoln, then another at Maryland, to make the finale with Indiana truly meaningful

Iowa forward Hannah Stuelke (45) drives past Nebraska’s Maggie Mendelson (44) during the second half of their game Jan. 28 at Iowa City. They meet again at Lincoln on Saturday. (Cliff Jette/Freelance)

IOWA CITY -- Taylor McCabe has climbed the ladder at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

She has taken scissors to net, and stepped down.

It was about 50 weeks ago when McCabe’s Fremont High School team won a Nebraska Class A state championship.


“I’ve played there a few times, hit a few shots,” she said.

Yes, the University of Nebraska recruited McCabe, who netted a state-record 389 3-pointers in her four-year career at Fremont.

“They were definitely in the recruiting process,” she said Friday. “(Huskers Coach) Amy Williams was pretty cool. I competed against her daughter in high school sports.

“But I’m glad to be here.”

Still in the thick of the Big Ten women’s basketball title hunt, No. 7 Iowa (21-5, 13-2) heads to Lincoln for a Saturday encounter with the perplexing Huskers (14-12, 6-9).

Tipoff is 1 p.m.

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Considered by many a Big Ten contender in the preseason, Nebraska has lost three straight games and sorely needs some wins down the stretch to regain consideration for the NCAA tournament.

Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder was asked Friday if she was surprised by the Huskers’ current standing.

“A little bit, yeah,” she said. “They returned so much.”

Iowa held off Nebraska, 80-76, at Iowa City on Jan. 28, thanks to a 26-9 second-quarter blitz and a 33-point, 12-rebound, nine-assist gem by Caitlin Clark.

“Nebraska is coming off a tough loss (at Minnesota),” Bluder said. “I know they’re expecting a big crowd. We seem to bring out the best (attendances) in everybody.”

The Hawkeyes are accompanied by an ever-growing buzz, home or away. It is reaching a crescendo as the Big Ten race nears its conclusion and the NCAA tournament approaches.

Thursday, it was revealed that ESPN’s College GameDay will invade Iowa City for the Hawkeyes’ regular-season finale Feb. 26 against Indiana.

That game has been sold out for two weeks.

“We’re excited about that,” Bluder said. “We’re only one of three locations to host. It says a lot for our program, and it’s going to be really, really fun.”

But for that game to be truly meaningful, the Hawkeyes must stay directly behind Indiana (25-1, 15-1), who hold a 1 1/2-game advantage.

That means a road win Saturday, and it means another Tuesday at Maryland.

Challenging stuff.

So, as Bluder said: “Nebraska first.”

“They’re a tough team to defend, they shoot the 3-pointers so well and have so many outside weapons,” she said.

On the other hand, Iowa’s 3-point defense has been quite good; opponents are shooting a mere 29 percent from distance against the Hawkeyes.

“I haven’t really thought about why that is,” Bluder said.

The Hawkeyes’ 40 minutes of fast pace takes a toll, perhaps?

“I hope so,” she said. “I feel like in the fourth quarter, we’re going to wear teams down.”

There’s still no word publicly on the 2023-24 status of seniors McKenna Warnock, Kate Martin and Gabbie Marshall, all of which qualify for a COVID-related fifth season if they so choose.

“By next week, we should have some announcements,” Bluder said.

Molly Davis already has committed to playing next season.

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