Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Seeds of a rivalry may have been sown on the hardwood, but it wasn't enough for the Huskers to overcome the hot shooting Hawkeyes.
When it was announced that Nebraska would be joining the Big Ten, it was widely assumed that the Nebraska/Iowa rivalry would be an immediate by product of the move. Well, it didn't play out that way, in large part because the Hawkeye football team, heck, the whole athletic department, hasn't held up its end of the bargain. Well, over the course of two weeks, in two crazed gyms, those rivalry flames may just get stoked after all. Two weeks ago, it was Nebraska (14-17, 5-13) who seemingly dealt the Hawkeyes (20-11, 9-9) a death blow to their NCAA tournament resume after coming back from a 16 point halftime deficit when Dylan Talley hit a three with 11 second left in the game. This time, it was the Hawkeyes who landed the blows as they put the hammer to the Huskers, defeating NU 74-60.
This game started much like the match-up in Lincoln did. The Hawkeyes jumped out to a 10-1 run almost before the Huskers knew what hit them. That opening stretch set the tone for the rest of the game. NU made a couple of charges at the Hawkeyes in an attempt to come back and make a game of it, but in the end the Huskers had dug themselves too big of a hole.
A bigger issue for the Huskers than the slow start was the inability to slow down Iowa in the paint. Nebraska struggled all day as Iowa picked up 12 offensive rebounds and outscored NU 38-20 in the paint. In a game that ended with a 14 point margin (17 if you take away a late garbage time 3 from Trevor Menke), Iowa's dominance in the paint looms large.
For as much as the box score would indicate that Iowa dominated this game, there was a stretch in the second half where that was in doubt. Coming out of halftime, the Huskers trailed by nine. A quick basket by Iowa grew the lead to 11. From there things got interesting. Back to back threes by Ray Gallegos and Shavon Shields cut Iowa's lead to five and the Iowa fans grew nervous.
Things grew contentious as play grew physical. A hard screen by Ray Gallegos opening up a three and some sloppy by Iowa allowed the Huskers to draw within 1. The sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd came to life, voicing their frustration and displeasure at the state of events on the court. The Hawkeyes responded. Boy did they respond. After the Huskers closed it to 43-42, Iowa went on an 18-2 run before Gallegos hit a three pointer. By that point, it was almost academic. The Huskers never really gave themselves a chance to really burst the Hawkeyes bubble.
The seeds of contention have been sown, however, at least on the hoops side of this rivalry, and it has the potential to get really good in a hurry. Iowa has young, talented core of players set up for a run at the Big Ten elite over the next two to three years. Husker fans feel as though they are just on the verge of a similar run under new head coach Tim Miles. If those hopes are realized by the team west of the Missouri River, these games are about to be can't miss match-ups full of high stakes situations. But none of that is reality, yet. First up is the conference tournament where the Hawkeyes will be looking to get to at least a Saturday match-up with one of the top teams in the conference in hopes of making one last case for inclusion on the bracket to be revealed in just over a week.
For the Huskers, their season is about to come to an end, barring an almost unprecedented run through the gauntlet that awaits in Chicago. Their opponent is yet to be determined. It will either be Illinois if they beat Ohio State Sunday afternoon. If OSU wins, their opponent will be Purdue. The Huskers are locked into the #10 seed and will play at 5:30 on ESPN2.