Clark, Iowa outduel UConn, return to title game

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CLEVELAND — Caitlin Clark’s remarkable college basketball career will continue to the women’s NCAA championship game for a second consecutive year, after the Iowa Hawkeyes defeated the UConn Huskies 71-69 in the Final Four on Friday night at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse.

Clark scored 21 points to go along with 9 rebounds and 7 assists as her days in Iowa black and gold will finish in the NCAA final. The Hawkeyes take on overall No. 1 seed South Carolina for the national championship Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on ABC. The Gamecocks (37-0) beat NC State 78-59 in Friday’s first semifinal.

Sophomore post player Hannah Stuelke led the Hawkeyes (33-4) in scoring with 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting. It was only the second time this season that Clark did not lead Iowa in scoring; both times it was Stuelke who stepped up.

Senior guard Kate Martin contributed 11 points and 8 rebounds as Iowa won the rebounding battle 38-30.

Clark’s signature 3-point shooting was off in the first half, as she was 0-for-6 from long range, and Iowa trailed 32-26 at halftime, with Clark limited to 6 points on 3-of-11 shooting overall.

The Hawkeyes had more turnovers (12) than field goals (11) in the first half, evidence of how good the Huskies’ defense was. Iowa’s 26 points tied its season low, matching its first-half output in a second-round victory over West Virginia.

But Iowa’s offense was much better in the second half, as the Hawkeyes had 25 points in the third quarter and sent the game to the final period tied 51-51. In the fourth quarter, Iowa outscored UConn 20-18 and Hawkeyes guard Gabbie Marshall drew a key late offensive foul against Aaliyah Edwards that helped seal the victory.

Clark is expected to be selected No. 1 by the Indiana Fever in the WNBA draft on April 15. The Fever, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2016 but have a good young core, open their season May 14 at Connecticut.

But first, Clark will go against the team that Iowa beat in last year’s Final Four: South Carolina, which is seeking its third NCAA championship. Iowa, which lost to LSU 102-85 in last year’s final, is going for its first national championship.

UConn was attempting to advance to its 13th NCAA final; the Huskies have won 11 titles. Their last trip to the NCAA championship game was in 2022, where they fell to South Carolina.

UConn guard Paige Bueckers, who came into college in the same class as Clark but missed last season with a knee injury, will return next season in pursuit of her first national championship. Bueckers and Edwards led UConn with 17 points each Friday.

Clark now owns career totals of 3,921 points, 1,139 assists and 982 rebounds. During her senior season, she became Division I’s all-time leading scorer, men’s or women’s, and the first player in women’s basketball to have more than 3,000 points and 1,000 assists. She also holds the record for most points in a season with 1,204.

But Clark’s career has also been measured by her impact on game attendance and television ratings. Iowa sold out every home game — and many on the road — in 2023-24, this after attracting a crowd of 55,646 at Kinnick Stadium, home of Iowa’s football team, for a preseason game.

The 2023 national championship game featuring Clark drew 9.9 million viewers on ABC. Then this past Monday’s Elite Eight, in which Clark scored 41 points in a rematch with LSU, drew an audience of 12.3 million on ESPN.

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