April 24th, 2024

Caitlin Clark leads Iowa back to Final Four, scoring 41 points in 94-87 win over defending champ LSU

By Doug Feinberg, The Associated Press on April 1, 2024.

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – Caitlin Clark made nine 3-pointers and finished with 41 points and 12 assists in a sensational performance as Iowa knocked defending national champion LSU out of the women’s NCAA Tournament with a 94-87 victory on Monday night, advancing the Hawkeyes to their second straight Final Four.

Top-seeded Iowa (33-4) will play either UConn or Southern California in the national semifinals Friday night in Cleveland.

“This one probably feels a little bit better. It’s my senior year, with this group,” Clark said. “A lot of people counted us out at the beginning of the year with the people we lost. And all we did was work really hard. To get back here is really hard. This regional was loaded with so much talent. The job’s not finished.”

Monday’s highly anticipated matchup was a rematch of last year’s national championship game won by LSU, which drew a record 9.9 million viewers. Both teams wished that this meeting had come later in the tournament instead of with a Final Four berth at stake, but that was out of their control.

Clark, who also scored 41 points in the regional finals last year, and Angel Reese of LSU put on a memorable show for the sold-out crowd and the millions watching.

With the game tied at 45 after an entertaining first half, Clark took over in the third quarter. The NCAA Division I all-time scoring leader hit four 3-pointers, each deeper than the previous one. Her fourth of the quarter, from her signature logo range, made it 61-52. It also was the 538th of her career, which made her the all-time leader in that category among NCAA Division I players, passing Oklahoma’s Taylor Robertson.

Flau’jae Johnson scored 23 points for No. 3 seed LSU (31-6), which fell short of becoming the first repeat champion since UConn in 2016. Reese finished with 17 points and 20 rebounds before fouling out with 1:45 left.

Iowa’s lead ballooned to 65-52 before LSU scored six straight points. The Tigers trailed 69-58 heading into the fourth quarter before scoring the first five points to get within 69-63.

But they got no closer as Clark wouldn’t let the Hawkeyes lose. Her ninth 3-pointer, which tied the NCAA record for most in a tournament game, made it 80-69 with 5:05 left. She pumped her chest as she ran back down the court and yelled to the adoring crowd.

“We really knew it was on the defensive end. We knew we were going to be able to be fine on offense,” said Clark, who was named the region’s Most Outstanding Player. “We’ve been fine on offense all year. I think it was just getting stops and being physical. They rebounded the ball really well, but we weathered every storm. You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They had a great year.”

Clark has already declared for this year’s WNBA draft. Reese, too, will have a decision to make about whether to turn pro or come back with one more season.

The game got off to a quick start and the first quarter was an offensive clinic by both teams. Clark got the scoring going early, much to the delight of a pro-Iowa crowd. She hit a 3 to start the game, breaking a tie with Diana Taurasi for most 3-pointers in NCAA Tournament history.

Iowa led 17-9 before LSU coach Kim Mulkey called a timeout. That seemed to settle her team down as the Tigers outscored the Hawkeyes 22-9 the rest of the quarter behind Reese, who finished the opening 10 minutes with 10 points, five rebounds and three assists to go along with two steals.

The Tigers got a scare in the second quarter when Reese went down trying to block Clark’s shot. She went down on the baseline and hopped off the court. The trainers looked at her right ankle and she rode a stationary bike for a few minutes before returning to the game. Reese was a little slower getting up the court but otherwise appeared unaffected.

Johnson made an acrobatic shot just before the halftime buzzer to tie the game. Clark had 19 points in the first half.

MORE CLARK RECORDS

Clark broke the NCAA Tournament assists record of 136 that was held by Temeka Johnson of LSU. Clark has 140 now. She matched Courtney Moses of Purdue in 2012 and Kia Nurse of UConn in 2017 with her nine 3-pointers.

UP NEXT

The Hawkeyes only played in the national semifinals one time previously before last season, and that was in 1993.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

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