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With another Big Ten tourney title after a second-half rally, Iowa may have just done itself a huge favor

Caitlin Clark’s Big Ten career closed with a steal, a ball toss and a celebratory run toward Herky the Hawk.

She started out slow again on Sunday, but recovered in the second half to lead Iowa to its third consecutive Big Ten tournament championship title with a 94-89 overtime victory against Nebraska at Target Center in Minneapolis. It was an impressive, gritty win and did more than bring another trophy home to Iowa City.

It may have clinched a No. 1 seed for the Hawkeyes (29-4).

Iowa was a No. 2 seed in each of the NCAA women’s basketball committee’s two reveals last month. On Feb. 15, the Hawkeyes were No. 5 overall and two weeks later had dropped to No. 7. With chaos above them in those rankings, their strong regular season finish and run to the tournament title could put them into a more advantageous position.

Instead of having to go through South Carolina to reach the Final Four, as was set up in the last reveal, they wouldn’t meet the undefeated squad until the final weekend. There’s the potential for both teams to be in the Albany super-regional pod, though they wouldn’t play each other while in different quarters of the bracket.

How Iowa won third straight Big Ten title

Clark struggled shooting from 3 in the Big Ten tournament and was 0-for-9 at halftime. Iowa trailed by 11.

The Hawkeyes came alive out of the break and cut into the deficit. It was a tie game heading into the fourth quarter and Clark’s driving layup with 29 seconds left tied the game, 77-77. Nebraska, which had one of the best 3-point shooting showings of the tournament, couldn’t get a shot to go on its final possession.

Iowa outscored Nebraska, 17-12, in the five-minute overtime with clutch buckets and stops from Clark, Gabbie Marshall and Kate Martin.

Clark was named MVP with 34 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds. She was 12 of 29 overall, 5 of 17 from 3 and had seven turnovers, one of her highest totals of the season.

Hannah Stuelke scored 25 with nine rebounds. She was 11 of 18. Martin added 13 points, going 4 of 5 from 3. Sydney Affolter, who is in the starting lineup for injured guard Molly Davis, had an 11-point, 11-rebound double-double.

Alexis Markowski led Nebraska with 23 points, but was 9 of 21. Natalie Potts had 21 and Jaz Shelley scored 16 points with 13 assists. She broke the Big Ten Tournament record for 3-pointers in a tournament with 16.

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - MARCH 10: Caitlin Clark #22 of the Iowa Hawkeyes celebrates during overtime against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament Championship at Target Center on March 10, 2024 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
Caitlin Clark and her Iowa Hawkeyes needed a late rally to secure a third straight Big Ten tournament title. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images) (Adam Bettcher via Getty Images)

Iowa likely locked in a No. 1 seed

The door for Iowa fully opened when Ohio State (24-5), which moved up to No. 2 overall, fell out of the Big Ten tournament in its first game. Maryland upset the Buckeyes, 82-61, in a dominating Big Ten quarterfinal matchup. The Buckeyes also closed their regular season with a 10-point loss to Iowa.

Ohio State was joined in the latest reveal by South Carolina, Stanford and UCLA on the top line. Iowa remained a No. 2 seed and dropped down following a 17-point loss to Indiana (NET 14).

Since then, Iowa took down Illinois (16-point margin, NET 49), Minnesota (48, NET 67), Ohio State (10, NET 9), Penn State (33, NET 26), Michigan (27) and Nebraska (5, NET 27). Iowa ranks fifth in NET, went 5-3 against teams ranked top 25 in NET and have one of the tougher NET non-conference schedules of the top teams.

The only loss was to Nebraska, currently on the edge of the top NET ranking, on the road last month when the Cornhuskers held Clark scoreless in the final quarter. She was eight points from the NCAA Division I women’s scoring record. The Cornhuskers are a projected 8 seed.

Meanwhile, teams above Iowa struggled over the same time period. No. 5 overall seed Virginia Tech was in position to move up, just as the Hokies did last year, but Elizabeth Kitley sustained a knee injury in the finale and Virginia Tech lost in the ACC semifinals.

No. 4 overall seed UCLA lost in two overtimes to USC in the Pac-12 semifinals, potentially dinging its chances after the Bruins moved up to the final No. 1 spot. They’re 8-5 vs. NET top-25. It’s the most wins, but also the most losses, of the top group and is a direct result of playing in the Pac-12.

And Texas, the No. 6 overall seed in the last reveal, could lock in a No. 1 seed alongside Iowa by completing a Big 12 tournament title this week. The Longhorns are 4-4 against teams in NET top 25, the worst of any of the eight top contenders for the top four seeds. But, outside of South Carolina, they are the only ones without a loss to teams outside of the category.