South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

One last thing ...

Clark has a chance to end college career with the title that’s eluded her

- By Will Graves

CLEVELAND — Caitlin Clark will get her wish. The Iowa superstar and the Hawkeyes are returning to the national championsh­ip game.

Clark shook off a sluggish first half to score 15 of her 21 points after the break as the Hawkeyes rallied past UConn

71-69 on Friday night in the women’s Final Four.

The two-time national player of the year insisted all season that her goal wasn’t to set records but to help Iowa to the title it narrowly missed a year ago. Clark and the Hawkeyes will get their chance against unbeaten South Carolina on Sunday.

It wasn’t a vintage Clark performanc­e. She made 3 of 11 3-pointers and had four turnovers. There was even a hint of nerves at the end. She missed a free throw with 3.1 seconds left that would have given Iowa a three-point lead. Teammate Sydney Affolter got the rebound, leading to a jump ball, and Iowa retained possession.

Clark, who says her greatest talent is being able to see things before they happen, threw the ensuing inbounds pass off the back of UConn star Paige Bueckers to drain the clock to all but

0.8 seconds. One last heave inbounds and Clark ensured she’d get to play her final college basketball game on the biggest stage with a title at stake.

“Going to the national championsh­ip game is, everybody’s stepping up, it’s not just me, it’s not just one player,” Clark said. “That’s not what this is. We wouldn’t be at this point right now if it was just one player. And everybody comes up and makes really big plays when we need them.”

Clark has already declared for the WNBA draft and is expected to be the top overall pick by the Indiana Fever.

Early in Friday night’s matchup with UConn, it looked like Clark’s next game would be in that new uniform.

The Huskies said repeatedly they weren’t going to stop Clark from “getting hers,” but UConn found a way to do just that during the first half, holding Clark to six points and preventing her from making a single 3-pointer, the first time she went without a 3 in the first half of an NCAA Tournament game.

The Division I all-time leading scorer made her first shot, a layup, before missing her next five. Many of those came from her signature logo range, but they harmlessly fell off the rim each time. She finally hit a driving layup midway through the second quarter.

UConn players picked Clark up the entire length of the court each time Iowa had possession, making life difficult for Clark. Open space was hard to come by and times she appeared to be frustrated. Iowa’s coaches kept shouting words of encouragem­ent to their generation­al player.

Even though she wasn’t scoring, Clark kept the Hawkeyes in the game with six rebounds and four assists as the Hawkeyes trailed 32-26 at the break.

Early in the second half, Clark began to find a rhythm. So did her team.

She was fouled hard by UConn’s Ashlynn Shade while taking a 3-pointer from the wing. The shot splashed through and Clark made the ensuing free throw to draw the Hawkeyes within 44-43, setting the stage for the kind of tight finish expected between the most decorated program in women’s basketball history and a program whose rise over the last two years has moved in lockstep with Clark’s emergence as the face of her sport.

Clark’s record-setting season turned every appearance by the pony-tailed shooting guard with the Steph Currylike range into appointmen­t viewing.

A record 12.3 million people watched the Hawkeyes earn a measure of revenge over Angel Reese and defending national champion in LSU in the Elite Eight on Monday night, a year removed from the Tigers’ win over Iowa in the national title game that served as the launching pad for Clark’s stardom.

Even when the action stopped, Clark’s work did not. She’s been a fixture during commercial breaks in the tournament, hawking everything from insurance to sports drinks thanks to new name, image and likeness rules that have allowed her to cash in on her fame in a way her predecesso­rs never could.

The Hawkeyes took the floor on Friday night with a sea of fans clad in black and yellow cheering them on, many of them wearing a rainbow selection of shirts or jerseys with Clark’s No.

22, a number she chose not out of inspiratio­n but because she was born on Jan.

22 couldn’t come up with anything else. The Clark effect was everywhere inside Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. ESPN pulled out all the stops, including offering an alternate telecast option for viewers featuring Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi and stuffing the building with 43 cameras. Tickets just to get in the door started at $300 on the secondary market and soared well into four figures.

 ?? STEPH CHAMBERS/GETTY ?? In a season in which she has toppled records, Iowa guard Caitlin Clark has one more mark she’d like as part of her legacy: national champion.
STEPH CHAMBERS/GETTY In a season in which she has toppled records, Iowa guard Caitlin Clark has one more mark she’d like as part of her legacy: national champion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States