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Caitlin Clark sparks Iowa to third straight Big Ten tourney title

Caitlin Clark sparks Iowa to third straight Big Ten tourney title originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Caitlin Clark overcame a cold start to score 30 of her 34 points after halftime and help third-ranked Iowa rally past Nebraska 94-89 in overtime to win a third straight Big Ten Tournament on Sunday.

Hannah Stuelke had 25 points and nine rebounds for the Hawkeyes (29-4), who trailed by 13 points late in the first half while their superstar Clark missed all nine of her 3-point attempts.

The all-time NCAA leading scorer finished 5 for 17 from deep, had 12 assists and hit the dagger 3-pointer with 51 seconds left in OT for an 89-97 lead just 16 seconds after Logan Nissley's 3-pointer had put the Cornhuskers in front.

Alexis Markowski had 23 points and 13 rebounds to lead Nebraska (22-11) in a valiant performance that fell short of a second victory over Iowa this season. The Huskers beat the Hawkeyes 82-79 on Feb. 11.

Natalie Potts had 21 points and nine rebounds for the Huskers, who led 75-67 with 2 1/2 minutes to go in regulation, before Clark drained one of her signature step-back 3-pointers. Her layup in traffic tied the game with 29 seconds left.

Nebraska played for the final shot, and Nissley's baseline jumper was short at the regulation buzzer. Clark waved her arms at the Iowa-dominated sellout crowd, yelling “Come on! Five more minutes!”

The Huskers played their fourth game in four days, beating Purdue, Michigan State and Maryland to reach the conference final for the first time in 10 years. Despite the 11 a.m. Central tipoff and the lost hour for the daylight saving time change, they sure didn't lack for energy.

These regional rivals — one fan clutched a clever sign that read, “Iowa has better corn!” — from the conference’s soon-to-be-stretched-way-out western edge played a rugged and fierce game befitting their grind-it-out matchups on the football field. Bodies banged hard against the floor often, and the pushing for position around the basket was intense.

Markowski and Potts, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award winner, played fearlessly inside after Iowa commanded a 54-16 points-in-the-paint advantage on Michigan the day before. Clark mostly found her usual playable looks at the hoop, but the long ball just wasn't her friend. The Hawkeyes matched every bit of the Huskers' fire, though, and made sure they stayed within striking range by getting the ball to the basket as much as they could and locking down on defense.

Clark immediately bit into Nebraska’s 46-35 halftime lead by hitting a step-back jumper from the foul line. Her first deep shot finally fell when she drifted right off the break and swished a pullup from the wing to bring Iowa within 48-42, and she pumped her fist with a slight smile on the way back.

Curling off high screens was a recipe for success. Clark gave the Hawkeyes their first lead since 5-4 when she did just that off a pass from Kate Martin and smoothly drove in for a layup that made it 53-52.