Caitlin Clark uses her teammates in more ways than one, which is a big factor in Iowa’s success

By | March 8, 2024

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Caitlin Clark thought junior teammate Sydney Affolter came in and played great after Molly Davis’ injury. Also redshirt junior Kylie Feuerbach.

“That’s what we’re going to need going forward,” Clark said after Iowa’s regular-season finale victory over Ohio State. “I am proud of our group then [the Buckeyes] went on their way. I thought we always had a reaction.”

Five minutes and many questions later, she noted another strong performance from Hannah Stuelke before answering a follow-up question about the second attacker.

“This is what Hannah is capable of every night,” Clark said. “I think it’s just her confidence, her belief in herself. I thought she made some big free throws. But yeah, I think she played very, very well and that will obviously be important down the stretch.

Clark is best known for her prolific scoring and career high of 3,685 points, surpassing Pete Maravich’s legendary all-time points record. Her hitting is a close second and she is sixth on the NCAA Division I women’s all-time list with 1,058. They offer just as much wow factor as her logo 3s, even if this has been overshadowed by her scoring records lately.

Iowa's Hannah Stuelke (left) and guard Sydney Affolter (center) have played bigger roles on the team this season, with Caitlin Clark leading the way.  (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)Iowa's Hannah Stuelke (left) and guard Sydney Affolter (center) have played bigger roles on the team this season, with Caitlin Clark leading the way.  (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Iowa’s Hannah Stuelke (left) and guard Sydney Affolter (center) have played bigger roles on the team this season, with Caitlin Clark leading the way. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Even more obscured is her ability to dish it out in a different way. It’s no secret that the media crowd in interview rooms and millions of people watching on TV are there for her, a generational talent who has captured the attention of basketball and non-sports fans alike. It’s her name and number on the backs of the majority of fans, both home and visiting, and her likeness on billboards and TV commercials.

But “The Clark Effect,” as it is known, wouldn’t be possible without the Iowa teammates who have stood by her side over the years. They all wear “Iowa” on the front of their jerseys, just as fans have done on the front of Clark’s T-shirts, and she makes sure to extend the spotlight to credit them whenever possible. It’s a way she’s gained more leadership over a new group after three years of the same starters, and a big reason why Iowa is positioned to return to the Final Four.

“My teammates, I’m so grateful,” Clark said on the night she surpassed Kelsey Plum’s all-time NCAA DI women’s scoring record in February. “They let me be myself and I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for them.”

“Everyone on that team loves her,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. “They are not jealous of her. They know how hard she works for it. And they know what they bring to our team. So I’m very grateful that I have a group of women who understand that.”

Clark, the fourth-ranked recruit in the 2020 class, is the only five-star recruit on Iowa’s roster, and the first since current assistant coach Tania Davis in the 2015 class, according to ESPN HoopGurlz data. None of the teammates who played alongside Clark over the past four seasons entered college as five-star recruits and only a few made the top 100 recruiting rankings. Three of those, including No. 45 overall recruit Stuelke, are recent additions to Iowa as part of the 2022 class. No one scored higher than number 39.

Clark’s ability to find teammates even when they don’t think they are open makes everyone around her better, putting the team at the top of the Associated Press poll and title discussion. She is the Division I assistant leader for the third straight season, averaging 8.7 per game per game as a senior and 8.1 throughout her career.

In 92 of her 100 collegiate games this year, that supporting cast has looked the same. Their experience together was a big reason why the Hawkeyes advanced from the NCAA tournament to the program’s first national title game last year, where they lost to LSU.

Two of those four familiar faces remain.

Kate Martin earned her first second-team All-Big Ten honors this week and is the first Iowa player to reach at least 900 points, 500 rebounds, 400 assists, 120 steals and 60 blocks in a career. Fans call fifth-year guard and captain who grew up in Iowa camps “the glue.”

Fifth-year guard Gabbie Marshall is “the sparkand her three-pointers at crucial moments draw similar roars from fans at Carver-Hawkeye Arena as Clark’s barrage from deep. She was named to the All-Big Ten Tournament team last year and became the first Hawkeye with 200 made 3s and 200 steals in a career.

Outside of the key returners, there were starters playing alongside an even better Clark, who didn’t know how fast and hard her high-IQ passes were getting into their hands. Or to always have your head up and ready during the transition, even if you think you are not open to it. They had to step up and fill in as the chemistry between them grew.

Molly Davis, who transferred from Central Michigan in 2022 as the regular ballhandler (she leads the team in assist-to-turnover rate at +2.51), moved into a starter role and hopes to return after a knee injury against Ohio State . Iowa said in a news release that the fifth-year senior will undergo physical therapy this week to “improve mobility for postseason play.”

Stuelke, the reigning Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year, faced one of the toughest tasks of any Iowa player. She took over the center position from Monika Czinano, a WNBA Draft pick with a long resume as one half of the pick-and-roll-happy “Law Firm” with Clark. In her first year as a starter, Stuelke has shown signs of stardom, earning all-Big Ten second-team honors this week.

After Clark took Stuelke’s career-high 47-point performance with 15 assists from the point guard a step further, the two joked about going back and forth for Carver Hawkeye-Arena records. Clark, after scoring a historic 49 against Michigan, told a packed interview room that Stuelke “better break the record” in one game.

“I think that just speaks to our culture and the team coach that Bluder has built here,” Clark said. “You just want your teammates to succeed. I was so happy for that [Stuelke] the other night. I’m okay with Hannah scoring 50 in the next game. So hopefully she does.”

Stuelke scoring half of Iowa’s average game total will only help Clark achieve her ultimate goal: winning an NCAA national championship. She has honored each record as it came and used it to draw attention to former record holders and other top artists across the country. But a title still eludes her with just one shot left after announcing she would enter the WNBA Draft in April.

More than a scoring record, that requires a team-wide effort. It kicks off on Friday with the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals (6:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network), when No. 2 seed Iowa plays the winner of No. 7 Penn State vs. No. 10 Wisconsin in Minneapolis. Tournament tickets sold out weeks ago as a new entry into The Clark Effect recently led to a Travis Scott sighting in Iowa City.

After team photos with the Billboard chart-topper and 20 minutes of autographs for fans hanging out in the tunnel, Clark entered another packed media room. Cameras lined the back wall and media members filed in for quotes about another record-breaking day and another 30-plus point outing.

Clark was asked how she came to be playing in front of a cardboard cutout of her dog four years ago due to COVID-19 fan restrictions and now in a sold-out arena with Scott, four-time WNBA champion Maya Moore and Jake from the State Farm court.

She loved every minute of it, she said. Through ups and downs, she said she matured to handle and balance the frenzy of attention.

And then there were her teammates, who also had to live up to that pressure cooker around them and did it well. Carver-Hawkeye Arena is as vocal for Clark’s points as it is for everyone else.

“You just feel the energy, the joy and the excitement that our team plays with and it’s contagious,” Clark said. “What’s fun about this whole ride is the style of basketball we play. People love it. They’re not just there for me. I’m sure I’m helping, but at the end of the day we have a great team and a great culture. And that makes it so much fun.”

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