DALLAS — Driven by the history-making play of Caitlin Clark, the Iowa Hawkeyes are in their first national championship game and play the LSU Tigers on Sunday (3:30 E.T. p.m., ABC/ESPN App) for the 2023 NCAA title.
Clark was already the most recognizable player in women’s college basketball before the NCAA tournament tipped off. Her legend has only grown over the last three weeks. In Friday’s national semifinal upset of the previously unbeaten and defending champion South Carolina Gamecocks, who were the top defensive team in the country this season, Clark scored 41 points and handed out eight assists, becoming the first player in men’s or women’s NCAA tournament history to score 40 points in consecutive games.
Just five days earlier, she notched 41 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists against the Louisville Cardinals in the regional final — the first 40-point triple-double in the history of either tournament.
The numbers are amazing. Clark’s impact on Iowa has been even more incredible. In Iowa’s five games in the NCAA tournament, Clark’s shooting and passing have accounted for 64% of the Hawkeyes’ offense, and she is now averaging 29.8 points, 10.3 assists, and 6.5 rebounds since Iowa began the nine-game winning streak that produced a Big Ten tournament championship and a run to the title game.
Clark has been the talk of Dallas. No player has garnered more attention or generated more conversation. And while Iowa will have its hands full defending LSU’s Angel Reese and Alexis Morris, who combined for 51 of LSU’s 79 points Friday, players, coaches and analysts have had plenty to say about Clark in Dallas, some even providing scouting reports ahead of Sunday’s final.
Lisa Leslie: A mixture of Taurasi, Bird and Swoopes
Lisa Leslie, one of the best players in women’s basketball history, quickly compared Clark to some of the game’s other biggest names.
“Caitlin is phenomenal. I think we have not seen a player like her,” the two-time WNBA champion and three-time MVP said. “And I say that because she’s a mixture of Diana Taurasi in her consistency of shooting and being able to take over a game. I think she’s a little bit like Sue Bird because she has the ability to pass the ball. But then she’s tall enough like Sheryl Swoopes.
“So if you put those three players today, I don’t know, I think you’ve got Caitlin. … I think it’s great for the game. I love it. It’s Caitlin’s time right now and I think that’s great for women’s basketball.”
Diana Taurasi: ‘You’ve got to disrupt’ Clark
Caitlin Clark sets semifinal record with 41-point performance in Iowa’s win
Caitlin Clark scores an NCAA semifinal-record 41 points in Iowa’s stunning upset of South Carolina.
Taurasi, a three-time NCAA champion for the UConn Huskies and voted the GOAT by WNBA fans in 2021 when the league celebrated its 25th season, discussed Clark’s game during ESPN’s “The Bird and Taurasi Show” and how she would play against her.
“I would pick her up 94 feet and mess with her so bad,” the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer said. “I would poke at her, I would jab at her, I would frustrate her. I would do dumb stuff. I would get a technical. I would get a flagrant. You’ve got to disrupt the rhythm of the game.”
LSU guards: ‘She’s one of one’
LSU guard Alexis Morris, who will likely have to guard Clark at different times in Sunday’s game, was asked if she had ever seen anyone like Clark.
“Do you know who Breanna Stewart is? Stewie’s pretty amazing to me. [Elena] Delle Donne? Pretty amazing to me,” Morris said. “But in our generation, absolutely not. She’s one of one, period.
LSU freshman Flau’jae Johnson was asked how she would defend Clark. Her answer is a more traditional approach than Taurasi’s — with some extra help thrown in. “I am going to have to play my best defense ever,” Johnson said, “and maybe throw up a prayer too.”
Kim Mulkey: ‘Gosh, she’s special’
LSU’s Kim Mulkey, who has won titles as a player and coach, harkened back to her playing days to describe her appreciation for Clark’s game.
“She’s going to get her points. That girl is phenomenal shooting the ball. But the most impressive thing to me, now that you’re talking to an old point guard, is she makes everybody around her better,” Mulkey said Saturday. “That’s my first time see her play in person. … I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Gosh, she’s special. She’s special.”
Doris Burke: Clarks gives ‘entire team confidence’
ESPN NBA analyst Doris Burke sees Clark in a similar light, and offered perhaps the ultimate scouting report.
“She has this innate feel to know where players are going to be on her body and know how to hit the pocket pass,” Burke said as a guest on “The Bird and Taurasi Show.” “She’s a player who is able to give her entire team confidence. She’s so skilled. She puts the ball where it needs to be.”
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder: When in doubt …
When asked how she would stop Clark if she was an opposing coach, Iowa coach Lisa Bluder was succinct.
“Pray,” Bluder said as she concluded her news conference Saturday.