When the lights shine brightest, Caitlin Clark delivers – and she did so again in an epic showing against LSU

By | April 2, 2024

ALBANY, NY – Caitlin Clark sat in the confetti, not far from where she regularly shoots and hits from deep. The crowd of teammates, family and friends had obviously cleared an open spot, just as LSU cleared space for her to tie her career record of nine 3-pointers. She pulled down her new Final Four hat and typed on her phone. Scrolled a bit. Wiped her face at the end of a long day at work.

The senior wanted a little silence for herself so she could take a few deep breaths. The piece of netting she cut from the edges of MVP Arena shot high from her ponytail as cameras snapped photos.

“These moments pass quickly. I know how fast they go,” Clark said in the locker room. “My career is almost over and I will never win another Elite Eight match. Let it sink in and enjoy it.”

A few minutes later, she got back into the fray for photos and throwing confetti. Young children left behind after most of the 13,888 crowd left shouted her name in unison to elicit even a smile from the superstar they watched score 41 points with relative ease against the team that kept her from a national championship .

It was Iowa celebrating this time after a 94-87 victory over LSU clinched the loaded Albany 2 regional and a berth in the Final Four. The NCAA’s all-time leading scorer set several more records: career three-pointers, a three-second tie in a game and Pearl Moore’s all-time scoring record.

The title game rematch was circled as soon as the brackets came out and became something to watch as each team clinched its spot in the Elite Eight on Saturday.

But the Iowa players and head coach Lisa Bluder emphasized afterward, as in the days leading up to the game, that they were not wrapped up in the idea of ​​revenge. To them, this has nothing to do with LSU. It didn’t matter which team was in the way. When the run is over, so are the careers of Clark, Gabbie Marshall and Kate Martin. Bluder told them to live in the moment and keep it alive.

“If you live too much in the past, it ruins the present,” Clark said. “We talked about that. Be where your feet are. The biggest thing we talked about was: What does Iowa have to do to win this game?

Iowa celebrates with teammates during the Hawkeyes' win over LSU on Monday.  (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Iowa celebrates with teammates during the Hawkeyes’ win over LSU on Monday. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Iowa had to start well, sink three seconds and play solid defense. It did all three. Clark gave everyone a taste of what was to come when she pulled up and hit deep on the Hawkeyes’ first possession after Hannah Stuelke pulled in the game’s first rebound. She entered the game 11-of-34 from 3 in the NCAA Tournament after a rocky Big Ten run from deep.

“I probably haven’t scored that well from three games in the last five games,” Clark said. “But even if you told me that, I would still believe 110 percent in myself and what I was able to do this year.”

On the next possession, she drove in to clear the lane. Gabbie Marshall immediately tapped a pass on the perimeter on the other end, collected the ball and gave Stuelke two more points.

The Hawkeyes led by as many as nine in the first quarter and went into halftime tied at 45-45. Clark came out of the locker room and hit her fourth 3 to send Iowa to a crushing 24-13 third quarter. Clark shot 4-for-7 from 3 in the period, building a 69-58 lead that LSU couldn’t cut until the final minutes.

“There’s not much strategy. You have to guard her. No one else seems to be able to guard her,” LSU head coach Kim Mulkey said. “We didn’t even guard her last year when we beat them. She’s just a generational player and she just makes everyone around her better. That’s what the great ones do.”

Cameras caught LSU guard Hailey Van Lith shrugging with a ‘what can you do’ on one of Clark’s shots, the Iowa superstar often annoys opponents and will continue to do so for at least one more game at the collegiate level.

“She’s a great player. She hit some hard shots,” Van Lith said. “There’s not much you can do about the threes she hit.”

“Her long shots were great tonight,” Bluder said. “Her logo 3s were incredible. How do you defend that, right? It is almost impossible.”

When she hit the ninth and final 3 at 5:05 to make it an 11-point game, she pounded her chest and looked out at the crowd, expressing the emotion of a long year of trying to bounce back. She didn’t realize she was doing it.

“I think I was just hyped for a moment, to be honest,” she said. “I tried to be pretty calm and cool. When you play a team like LSU, they are never out of the game. Regardless of the time and the score.”

The emotional component is a major reason why the game’s ratings are expected to break records. Clark and LSU superstar Angel Reese battled their way into the title game and have been involved in a larger conversation about it ever since. Reese is often criticized for it and Clark drew attention to first-round antics.

“It could have been a very emotional game,” Bluder said. “It can be a lot of talk out there. Just because of what happened at the end of last year. Honestly, she put it aside. She put everything aside.”

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark cuts the net after beating LSU on Monday.  (Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports)Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark cuts the net after beating LSU on Monday.  (Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports)

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark cuts the net after beating LSU on Monday. (Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports)

Bluder credited her star for building up her teammates in the group, and each progressed in their own way. Stuelke struggled with foul trouble, but was 3-of-5 for eight points against Reese in the paint. Martin scored 21 and Sydney Affolter, who was named to the starting lineup in the postseason, scored 16 to earn all-region honors. Clark fed them early, giving up her own shot for a game-high 12 assists that dazzled casual fans and lit up social media. Yes, Clark is an excellent passer with assists that boggle the mind.

“Caitlin Clark isn’t going to beat you on her own,” Mulkey said. “It’s what she does to make those other teammates better that makes her score points and them score points to beat you.”

She also took the lead defensively. Clark, Martin and Marshall each had two steals in a high-quality defensive performance. Marshall stood out for the tilt passes at the rim, creating problems for LSU’s offense.

“I mean, nothing comes out of the closet [stat] page moreover [she] I never had a sub the whole game and she’s constantly working on defense,” Martin said.

Flau’jae Johnson continued to be LSU’s pulse with 23 points, freshman Mikaylah Williams added 18 and both Reese (17 points, 20 rebounds) and Aneesah Morrow (14 points, 14 rebounds) recorded double-doubles. Reese rolled her ankle in the first half and said after the game that she had been playing through an injury for some time.

Marshall and Addy O’Grady, the center who stepped into quality minutes with Stuelke on the bench, each scored blocks, as did Clark. The senior put a resounding end to the game and 15 seconds later dribbled out the clock in what she hoped wasn’t her last trophy-winning experience.

“You’re never satisfied when you’re at the Final Four,” Clark said. “Last year we were very close to achieving our goal. It’s great to be able to come back there, and you enjoy it and absorb it. But once you get there, you turn the page.”

As the party came to an end, Clark left the court with a pen surrounded by more cameras. She went from child to child signing T-shirts and shoes. Parents held their children’s belongings over their heads in an attempt to get an autograph or a hello. Photos were taken as she walked through the tunnel, the back of her No. 22 and the tip of the net swinging from her hat.

The final week of her collegiate career passes quickly. She just hopes it doesn’t end too soon.

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