Iowa Hawkeyes freshman Caitlin Clark breaking through as a top scorer

Seeing a 17-point lead dwindle to four in about four minutes could be pretty unsettling for a college freshman. But when you're the top-scoring rookie in Division I women's basketball, you take a deep breath and trust your instincts. And your jump shot.

Point guard Caitlin Clark has been lighting up scoreboards all season, and she did it again Thursday with a career-high 39 points in the Iowa Hawkeyes' 88-81 victory at Nebraska. It was her third game in a row hitting the 30-point mark or better, and her seventh overall this season.

Clark did it efficiently, making 12 of 18 shots from the field -- six of them 3-pointers -- while going 9-for-9 from the line. She also came close to her second triple-double of the season, getting 10 rebounds and seven assists. She has been held under 20 points just twice in 17 games for Iowa, which improved to 11-6 on the season.

The Hawkeyes had seen a comfortable margin rapidly sliced down by the Huskers late in the fourth quarter. Coming off losses to ranked teams Ohio State and Indiana, Clark might have started to panic that this one would get away. But she didn't. She swished a deep 3-pointer that gave the Hawkeyes a seven-point cushion with 1 minute and 18 seconds left. Then in the final 31 seconds, she went 6-for-6 from the free throw line.

"I play my best basketball when I'm more patient and calm, and that's what I did tonight," Clark said. "My shot just felt good tonight. At the end of the game, I kind of knew our offense had become more stagnant, and we needed a big shot. That last 3-pointer ... I just kind of pulled up and took it. I knew that I had to.

"I'm still learning and growing. I think tonight was a big improvement for me knowing what shots to take and what shots not to take."

When you're a scorer like Clark, though, there really aren't many bad shots. She is averaging 26.6 points per game, second in Division I only to Middle Tennessee junior guard Anastasia Hayes at 28.2 PPG. Clark, a 6-foot guard, is a native of West Des Moines, Iowa. She was the No. 4 recruit from the Class of 2020 by ESPN Hoopgurlz.

Clark comes from very athletic genes; 11 people in her extended family have competed in college sports, including her brother Blake, a redshirt sophomore football player at Iowa State. Clark arrived at Iowa with big shoes to fill at point guard, as 2019 Big Ten player of the year Kathleen Doyle had graduated and moved on to the WNBA's Indiana Fever.

"It's hard coming into the Big Ten conference as a freshman, let alone being the point guard," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "She knew that coming in, there was going to be a lot asked of her [because] Kathleen Doyle was leaving. We had that discussion with her: 'You are going to be thrown into the fire right away.'

"I think she's playing great, and she welcomes the pressure. She doesn't shy away from it."