Iowa is heading into the NCAA Women’s Final Four for the second time in program history after Caitlin Clark led an offensive rush against fifth seed Louisville in a 97-83 win.
Offensive attack is probably an understatement. Clark finished with 41 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists, The first 40 triple-double points In any NCAA tournament game, men’s or women’s.
Even as the Cardinals trimmed Iowa’s lead in moments, the question became less about which team would advance to the National Semifinals on Friday in Dallas and more about what Clarke could achieve on the ground.
By halftime, Clark had 22 points, 3 rebounds, and 8 assists. How much more can you accumulate on it?
A lot, it turns out.
When Clarke scored her first 3 points of the third quarter, Mikasa Robinson of Louisville looked pissed off, with good reason.
Clark, a finalist for the 2023 Naismith National Player of the Year Award, has a baseline so flashy that ESPN added a little “Kaitlin Clark alert triple-double” above the scoreboard to her telecast as she chased down grab rebounds and continued to score. Put it higher points.
It does not appear that it will be one-sided information. Healy Van Leith and Louisville got out of the gate quickly, putting up 8 points in the first two minutes before Iowa had anything on the board.
This was not the first time that Clark and Van Leith had met in court. The duo bonded together while playing for the USA Basketball Under-19s in 2019, and before Sunday’s game, Clark called Van Leith the Cardinals’ “engine.”
Near the end of the first quarter, Clark fumbled the ball and flew across the field for her 3-point money shot. That started a spin-and-shoot – another 3-pointer by Clark, a 3-pointer by Kate Martin from a turnover, and another by McKenna Warnock. From there, the rest was really show.
When Iowa State led by 16 in the third quarter, Clark raised her arms in the air, as the conductor assembled at Climate Pledge Arena. The crowd, mostly dressed in black and gold, responded with deafening cheers. “You feel kind of powerful,” she said, laughing after the match. “It’s kind of cool.”
The Hawkeyes’ lead would increase to 22 points early in the fourth.
However, Louisville has not slowed down. Towards the end of the game, Robinson stole the ball from Clarke and raced across the field to stop the ball. The response was muted. There was not enough time to mount a proper march.
After the game, Louisville head coach Jeff Walz noted the high score, nearly double the score of the other Sunday regional final, where Louisiana topped Miami. “I thought we should have recorded in the ’80s, but you just have to tip your hat to them,” he said.
With just over a minute left, Clark looked around. I entered this game much quieter than usual. I have imagined this moment over and over again. She put her hand in one ear. Then the other. The crowd rose to its feet in unison.
Before the game, Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said she wanted her team to approach this game like any other team. She said the pressure can create “some abnormal behaviour,” and she uses the “be us” mantra with her team.
And so Clark was Clark, and Warnock completed it with 17 points and 5 rebounds.
As Clark rode around the Seattle circuit for the last time, she held the regional trophy under her arm like a skateboard. There were Iowa fans yelling for autographs, parents begging for pictures, and all of a sudden, a security guard surrounded her.
The last semi-final berth was at Iowa in 1993. But Clark and Plunder debated getting there again, despite stiff competition at the top of the sport.
“She believed in me, and that was all that really mattered,” Clark said as her coach nodded, the game net around her neck.
It was Louisville’s fifth consecutive championship in Round 8. Last season, the Cardinals advanced to the Final Four but were denied participation in the championship game after losing to South Carolina.
Top seed Iowa State will face South Carolina or second seed Maryland in the Final Four in Dallas on Friday.
Can’t stop the LSU shooting night
Miami’s defense was playing at its peak. The Hurricanes forced Louisiana State forward Angel Reis to miss all of her first-half shots in Sunday’s quarter-final of the NCAA Women’s Tournament. But in the first half, in a game that stats say Miami should have dominated, LSU was up by 6 points.
This trend continued in the second half. Although LSU displayed one of the worst shooting games of its season, the Tigers defense stifled Miami even further, and LSU won, 54-42, to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2008.
Reese, who was named the Greenville District 2 Most Valuable Player, produced her 32nd double-double of the season, filling the net with 13 points, 18 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. The Tigers led by 21 points through Alexis Morris, who kept their lead in an error-filled first half. On Friday in Dallas, LSU will play the winner of Monday’s game between top seed Virginia Tech and third seed Ohio State.
“I’m the comeback kid,” said Morris, a sophomore who played for Rutgers, Baylor and Texas A&M. “I beat it. I beat the odds,” added Morris, who was wearing a basketball net she just snapped around her neck and a Final Four cap.
As confetti fell and players cut through the net, they gathered in a circle and danced in the middle zone, with Coach Kim Mulkey giving her best version of the game. Folk dance. By the end of the celebration, it was Mulky Walk around the square barefoot.
“I want to put up a championship banner there someday,” said Mulkey, a native of Louisiana, adding, “South Carolina, I’ve said it from day one, an incredible team and should win everything. But I definitely would love to be in that championship with them.” .
Mulkey came to LSU two seasons ago after 21 seasons and three championships at Baylor. The Tigers started this season with a largely new roster, adding nine players. Morris was the only returning starter.
“We don’t have to win a championship to see how much they love us,” Mulkey said of LSU’s fan base. “I think they’re going ‘What are we going to do in year two?'” are you kidding me?'”
She added that Reese was among the newcomers, after moving from Maryland in the off-season looking for a fresh start and moments like the Tigers on Sunday.
“We’ve been underdogs all year and now we’re going to be in the moment; it’s very interesting and exciting,” she said, adding, “I think that’s what was important to me. And I needed Coach Mulkey. That’s just what I need.”
The two teams missed over two-thirds of their shots and combined for just one 3-point basket on 27 attempts, with the Tigers’ Kateri Poole hitting just one after LSU was well in control. “If you sit here and tell me LSU is going to shoot 30 percent, 8 percent from three, 57 percent from the free throw line, I think I’d cut a net by now,” said Miami coach Katie Meyer.
Meyer said she believed Miami’s defensive plan worked, and noted Reese’s low goal percentage. But the strategy opened the door for Morris, who Meyer said is “the reason they’re there and I’m sitting here now.”
The first half of Sunday saw a chaotic attack from both teams. They fired open shots, turned the ball over and struggled to find rhythm.
“If I was watching this game, I would stop it,” Mulkey said in an interview with ESPN before the fourth quarter.
The second half wasn’t any cleaner. However, Reese’s rebound created second chances for the Tigers, who took advantage of the easy passes to extend their lead and cruise to victory.
Miami starting guards Destiny Hardin and Haley Cavender, who were the leading scorers for the Hurricanes in their three upset wins in this tournament, combined to finish 1-of-15 from the field with 5 points. Almost all of Miami’s offense came from Jasmine Roberts, who finished with 22 points and scored 18 of Miami’s first 27 points.
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