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Clark’s supporting cast plays key role in Iowa’s Big Ten tournament crown

The show-stopping Caitlin Clark came through when it mattered most Sunday. The Big Ten tournament's most outstanding player hit a go-ahead shot, a step-back three-pointer that put Iowa ahead for good in overtime. The basket highlighted a 34-point performance in which she also had 12 assists, seven rebounds and three steals.

Clark's key three-pointer in the Hawkeyes' 94-89 victory over Nebraska was a reminder that, even on her worst shooting days, college basketball's all-time leading scorer can take over a game at any time. However, she would not have been able to provide her late-game heroics without standout games from her supporting cast.

Clark began the game 2-for-13 from the field, including 0-of-9 from three-point range. Despite her struggles, Iowa remained within striking distance, trailing by 11 points after its lowest-scoring first half of the tournament. Hannah Stuelke, who finished with 25 points and nine rebounds overall, paced the Hawkeyes with 11 points in the first half, and Gabbie Marshall hit a pair of threes and provided strong on-ball defense.

Shortly after halftime, Clark made her first three-pointer of the game, but her teammates weren't content to let her play hero ball. Instead, they complemented the Big Ten player of the year to perfection, igniting a comeback that tied Nebraska through both the third and fourth quarters.

As the game got down to crunch time, the supporting cast made clutch plays to help propel Iowa to victory.

Nebraska made several attempts to pull away. Early in the fourth, Natalie Potts took the lead back for the Cornhuskers with a three-pointer, but Clark immediately found a running Stuelke in transition by threading the needle on a full-court pass. The same thing happened a few minutes later after a three by Clark cut an eight-point deficit to five with just more than two minutes left in regulation. She then threw the ball down the court to Stuelke for a fast-break bucket, and 34 seconds later, sixth-year player Kate Martin made another massive Hawkeyes three-pointer to bring Iowa to within two.

BOXSCORE: Iowa 94, Nebraska 89 (OT)

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After Clark's layup with 33 seconds left sent the game to overtime, she, Stuelke and Martin led the Hawkeyes to the win. The three scored all 17 of Iowa's overtime points, with Martin hitting two threes and Clark nailing the go-ahead shot. Marshall stuffed the Cornhuskers on a final three-point attempt, sending the Hawkeyes fans at Target Center into a frenzy, and Stuelke sealed Iowa's third straight Big Ten tournament crown with two free throws.

"Caitlin's gonna hit her big shots," Martin said. "That's what she does. That's what she's known for, and she's gonna get hers. The fact that they're trying to take her away and Hannah played super well inside, they have to pick their poison and it just left me open."

Martin finished with 13 points and shot 4-for-5 from three-point range, entirely in the second half and overtime. She said she was confused by how far away her defender was on some plays but tried not to think about it. She knocked down two overtime threes.

"Kate couldn't believe it when she was so wide open on that three," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "She looked down to make sure she was behind the three and then pops that one for us. She had two really crucial threes for us."

One of the biggest criticisms of the Hawkeyes this season is that they're less complete of a team than last year's Iowa team, which finished as national runner-up to LSU. Minus a frontcourt staple in Monika Czinano, many analysts pointed out the lack of depth on Iowa's roster surrounding Clark. Bluder has used that as a rallying point for the team.

"Everyone knew how much we lost last year, and everyone kept talking about how much we lost," Bluder said. "We kept saying, 'Look how much we have.'"

Indeed, it's what the Hawkeyes do have that powered them to a third consecutive Big Ten tournament championship. Clark was always going to score her points, but it was the performances of key cogs such as Martin, Stuelke and Marshall that also helped win the game.

It's those same pieces that will make or break Iowa's national title hopes.

All-Tournament Team: Caitlin Clark, Iowa; Sydney Affolter, Iowa; Jaz Shelley, Nebraska; Alexis Markowski, Nebraska; Laila Phelia, Michigan