Caitlin Clark Owns the Court

Courtesy of IOWA Magazine

The number-two-seeded University of Iowa unexpectedly triumphed over the number-one-seeded University of South Carolina in the women’s basketball NCAA Final Four match-up on Friday, March 31, thanks to junior guard Caitlin Clark at the Hawkeyes’s helm. The Iowa Hawkeyes faced the undefeated defending NCAA champions in Dallas, Texas at the American Airlines Center. Riding on a 42-game winning streak, South Carolina’s success seemed all but guaranteed, requiring a truly spectacular performance from Iowa to change the course of the tournament. Clark was determined to provide just that.

Following her 40-point triple-double performance in the Elite Eight game against Louisville on Sunday, March 26, all eyes were on Clark when Friday’s game commenced. 

Gamecocks Coach Dawn Staley commented, “[My players] all want a chance to guard her — and it’s going to take all of them, probably.”

Despite South Carolina’s determined defense, Clark fought her way to the basket again and again … and again. The Iowa native tallied her 37th point of the game with 1:19 on the clock, giving the Hawkeyes a 73-69 lead. After she drained yet another two-pointer and scored two more points at the free throw line with less than a minute to spare, Iowa triumphed over the defending champions by a narrow 77-73 score.

Clark recorded 41 points in all against the Gamecocks, scoring or assisting on every single one of Iowa’s eighteen points in the fourth quarter. Her 41 points not only solidified a much-needed win against the best in the business, but also set a new women’s Final Four record. Clark also became the first women’s basketball player to score more than 40 points in back-to-back NCAA tournament games.

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder told the Washington Post, “I love me some Caitlin Clark. We’ve been talking about being mission-focused a lot this year, and we had a game plan and these guys executed so well. That is South Carolina we just beat, folks. Amazing.”

On an ESPN broadcast after the game, Clark said, “All we did was believe in each other. You know we might not be the tallest, we knew they were going to beat us on the glass but all we had to do is have some heart and some belief, and you know we came through when we needed big plays and I’m just so proud of this group.”

Clark’s ingenuity on the court has fostered long-awaited attention and excitement toward women’s basketball, specifically. The women’s game finally seems to be receiving the buzz it deserves. “Tonight showed how fun women’s basketball is,” Clark told Yahoo Sports. “I’m sure some people wished this was a series of seven games.”

Iowa’s Final Four victory sent the Hawkeyes to their program’s first national championship game. The Hawkeyes faced Louisiana State University in the NCAA championships on Sunday, April 2 in Dallas, Texas.

Although the Hawkeyes lost to the Tigers by a considerable amount, 102-85, Clark continued to shine. Approximately 90 seconds into the game, the junior broke the record for the most three-pointers made in a single NCAA tournament with 25. By the end of the game, Clark had recorded a total of 32 three-pointers for the tournament. Her eight three-pointers in the championship game broke another record for the most threes anyone — men or women — has ever sunk in a tournament championship game. 

With 7:56 left on the clock, Clark drained a three-pointer to break Sheryl Swoopes’s record for the most points in a single NCAA women’s basketball tournament at 178. Clark tallied a total of 30 points in the final matchup to pace Iowa, leading to a record-setting tournament total of 191 points. This point total is higher than any other player’s, male or female, in a single NCAA tournament. Clark averaged an incredible 31.8 points per game for the tournament.

Not stopping there, Clark had eight assists in the championship game, taking her to a total of 60 assists in the tournament — an average of ten assists per game. This total sets a new record for assists by a player in a single women’s tournament and falls just short of the men’s record of 61 assists.

“I think she’s the most phenomenal basketball player in America,” Bluder said in an interview with CBS News. “I just don’t think there’s anybody like her. In so many regards, not only scoring, but passing the ball, handling the ball. And then it’s her mentality. I think that’s what’s so special. She believes in herself. She believes in her teammates. She’s so confident, but she’s put the work in to deserve to have that confidence.”

Clark’s success in the tournament follows her tremendous achievement throughout the entire regular season. This year, Clark became the first player in Division I women’s basketball history to tally more than 1,000 points and 300 assists in a single season at 1,055 points and 327 assists. Clark is already the only Division I player with a career total of at least 2,700 points, 700 rebounds, and 700 assists, and she still has one more year of college eligibility.

The junior guard’s offensive success has crowned her 2023 Associated Press Player of the Year, as well as 2023 Naismith Women’s College Player of the Year.

Yet most impressively, despite her new stardom, Clark’s humility always shines through. “When I was here in Minnesota last year, you know, my goal was to be here with my team. And that’s the most important thing to me, is to be at the Final Four competing with my team. And I know this award is impossible without every single one of [my teammates] back there, and I truly mean that. So, it’s just as much yours as it is mine, and same with our coaches,” said Clark to Hawkeyes Wire after winning the Naismith Trophy.

After the championship game, Clark showcased her sportsmanship. “All you can do is hold your head high, be proud of what you did, and all the credit in the world to LSU. They were tremendous; they deserve it. They had a tremendous season … I was just trying to spend the last few moments on the court with especially the five people that I’ve started 93 games with and relishing every second of that.”

Caitlin Clark is a sensation on the court, helping to garner long-awaited attention and excitement towards the women’s basketball game. The championship game alone gathered a sell-out crowd of 19,482 people, which helped set a women’s tournament record attendance of more than 350,000 fans throughout March Madness.

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