After a sensational performance in last year's tournament, Iowa's Caitlin Clark is looking to lead the Hawkeyes to the promised land. The 6-foot point guard is extremely comfortable with the ball, and playing just a mere two hours from her hometown certainly adds to the ease of her transition from high school to the NCAA.
At 20-7, the Hawkeyes finished their season ranked 12th in the country, cruising toward a Big 10 Championship, and licking their lips for more. This is largely in part to Iowa's dynamic duo of Monika Czinano and Clark, who has been, quite simply, lights out all season. Averaging 27.5 PPG, 8.3 APG, and 7.9 RPG, she's nearly been flirting with triple-double territory. She was able to manage that feat five times over the course of the regular season.
In women's college basketball, you would be hard-pressed to find a player as consistently dominant as Clark.
Caitlin Clark is Adding NCAA Records to Her Resumé
Clark has scored in double digits in every single game this season, never netting fewer than 16 points, and she dropped a season-high 46 in a loss to Michigan on February 6 that saw her score more than half of Iowa's points. That in and of itself illustrates the importance of this five-star recruit to this Hawkeye team.
Iowa Hawkeye head coach Lisa Bluder echoed that sentiment and even took things further. Following Iowa's 108-80 win over Michigan that cemented their Big Ten regular-season title, Bluder took the moment to shower Clark in praise, as well as state the sophomore's case for National Player of the Year.
"There's a lot of great players around America, no doubt. And I'm sure their coaches feel just as strongly about them as I do about Caitlin," Bluder said in the press conference following the win. "But Caitlin is in a situation where she has the ball in her hands all the time. And when you have the ball in your hands all the time, you can make an impact in the game -- you can also mess it up. There's a lot of responsibility with that. She has a direct effect on the game when she's out there."
"We have great people around Caitlin," Bluder continued, as Clark sat next to her. "We have great basketball players. We don't have 10 All-Americans like some people do. And there is a difference on that. We play as a team, and we're very proud of that, but we don't have 10 All-Americans like other players do."
Bluder's comments have come in the wake of a heated discussion over who should win the coveted award, with other pundits and league insiders crowning South Carolina's Aliyah Boston as the favorite to win.
Hawkeye teammate Gabbie Marshall then added, "You don't see anybody else in the country shooting logo threes and being triple-teamed either," evoking NBA comparisons of Trae Young and Damian Lillard.
On March 1, Clark was named the Big Ten Player of the Year. That's the latest in an already award-laden career for the 20-year-old West Des Moines native.
Superstar Success is Nothing New for Clark
She started her journey in high school, ranking fourth overall as a five-star recruit. She was named Iowa's Gatorade Player of the Year after her Junior season and won two gold medals as a member of Team USA at the 2017 U16 FIBA Americas Tournament and 2019 U19 FIBA World Cup Tournament.
According to her bio on Iowa's team site, Clark averaged 27.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.3 steals per game as a sophomore and 15.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.25 steals per game as a freshman. In high school. Before playing Division I competition. That's bananas.
Cut to college, and she started every game as a freshman. She was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year and earned unanimous Big Ten All-Freshman Team and unanimous first-team All-Big Ten honors. Not to mention the fact that she put up 35 points in a monster game against Kentucky to help book the Hawkeyes a place in the Sweet 16. They ultimately bowed out to UConn, but that didn't stop Clark from playing more minutes than any other Iowa player and leading the team with 21 points.
But the past is in the past. This season, she somehow rose to another level. In addition to being named National Player of the Week four times (all in a six-week period), she also joined an elite group that no other women's basketball player has cracked into. On January 20 at Minnesota, Clark put up 35 points, grabbed 13 boards and dished out 11 assists, recording her fourth triple-double of the season and second in consecutive games. All that scoring eventually led to first-team All-American honors.
What's even more impressive is she cracked 30 points in both games, having gone 31-10-10 against Nebraska just four days before. So that's 30-point triple-doubles in back-to-back games. The only other players to do that across the NBA, WNBA and Division I men's and women;s basketball? Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Russell Wesbrook, James Harden, Luka Don?i? and Giannis Antetokounmpo. That is some serious company to be in.
Can Big Ten Momentum Carry Iowa to the Big Dance?
So while we all bask in that for a moment, Clark is forging ahead. It remains to be seen whether Iowa will have what it takes to make a deep enough run to challenge for the National Championship. What we do know, however, is Caitlin Clark will be dazzling us until her season's final buzzer. This young baller's future is incredibly bright. We all need to sit back and enjoy the ride.
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