Sports

Caitlin Clark reaches a new level by leading Iowa past LSU and into the Final Four

ALBANY, NY – Caitlin Clark walked alone down a long hallway in the depths of MVP Arena on Monday night, with no coaches or teammates in sight. Well, she wasn’t completely alone – a security guard and two photographers followed her wherever she went. The playing field opened up before her as she stepped through the tunnel and emerged before throngs of fans waiting to see college basketball’s all-time leading scorer. As people noticed, a buzz began that turned into a loud roar as she stepped onto the hardwood 75 minutes before the game.

Moments later, Angel Reese walked to the LSU bench, which happened to be on the side of the court where Clark was shooting, and placed a shiny crown on the ninth chair. A teammate placed this crown on Reese’s head after it was announced at the introduction.

Everyone has been waiting for this. The rematch of last year’s national championship game. Another chance to see Clark and Reese – the two faces of college basketball – meet once again, with the Final Four on the line.

The aforementioned roar continued for more than two hours of play as Clark delivered a performance that won’t soon be forgotten. No. 1 seed Iowa advanced with a 94-87 victory over No. 3 LSU as Clark outscored defenders with 41 points and 12 assists, seven rebounds and two steals. It was the 13th 40-point game of her career, and her nine three-pointers tied an NCAA Tournament single-game record.

Iowa will reach the Final Four for the third time ever and the first time in consecutive seasons. On Friday, the Hawkeyes will face third-seeded Connecticut, which defeated top-seeded Southern California 80-73 on Monday night in Portland, Oregon.

LSU coach Kim Mulkey held the back of Clark’s head and pulled her close during the postgame handshake.

“I’m really glad you’re going,” Mulkey recalled. “…Girl, you are something else. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

There were many contributors to Iowa’s win and a defensive effort that blocked LSU in the crucial third quarter, but the night was all about Clark. She opened the game with a good three-pointer after 16 seconds and did the same in the second half. LSU’s Hailey Van Lith guarded Clark most of the night, but it may not have mattered who was in charge. Clark looked for her shot as she crossed the court, hitting basket after basket. At one point, she snapped the string over Reese’s outstretched arm and the Tigers star simply jerked his palms up.

“There’s not much you can do about some of the threes she hit,” Van Lith said.

In the least shocking announcement of the week, Clark was named the region’s Most Outstanding Player.

“At the beginning of the year, everyone kept saying, ‘Oh, Iowa lost so much,'” coach Lisa Bluder said of her Hawkeyes, who were still ranked No. 2 in the country in preseason polls. “‘They lost all that offense and two starters.’ We continued to focus on what we had.”

Before anyone could settle, the Hawkeyes were up 12-4 with three baskets from Clark. However, the Tigers ended the first quarter with a 14-3 run as Reese took charge for a while. She scored eight straight points, and after a steal and layup, Reese turned toward the sideline, screaming and shaking her head as she hopped up.

After an exciting 20 minutes, the teams went into the half-time break with a draw.

The game was decided in the third quarter when Iowa used a 15-3 run to take a 65-52 lead and never trailed again. Clark sank three three-pointers during this stretch. She let her emotions flow in the fourth quarter when she drained another three-pointer to give the Hawkeyes an 80-69 lead with 5:05 left; She turned to the crowd, beat her chest and screamed as the Iowa fans celebrated.

“Honestly, I think I was just hyped for a second,” Clark said. “I tried to be pretty calm and cool. When you play against a team like LSU, they are never eliminated, no matter how much playing time and score.

“I think that was the only result I celebrated.”

LSU seemed to lose much of its emotional power in the second quarter when Reese injured his ankle and had to leave the game. She immediately went to the sideline, spending a moment on an exercise bike and pacing behind the bench before checking back in and immediately making a hook shot. The ankle was clearly a problem as she limped back and forth on the court the rest of the evening, but Reese still finished the game with 17 points, 20 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals. It was her 26th double-double of the season. LSU forward Aneesah Morrow finished the game with 14 points and 14 rebounds. Kate Martin added 21 points for Iowa.

The basketball world will get at least one more chance to see Clark in an Iowa jersey before she enters the WNBA draft, where she will almost certainly be the No. 1 overall pick of the Indiana Fever. Reese has not yet announced whether she will enter the draft, but is expected to be selected in the first round if she does.

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