Caitlin Clark’s unapologetic and record-setting game look to take Iowa to new heights

If she’s in the building, she’s open.

And Friday night, in the most interesting college basketball game of the year and the most anticipated women’s college basketball game of the decade, everyone will know Caitlin Clark is in the building.

With her blend of audacious shot-making, blink-you’ll-miss-it passing and unapologetic showmanship, Clark has captivated hoops casuals and made the experts reach for apt comparisons and new superlatives.

Now the 6-foot junior point guard will attempt perhaps her most outlandish feat yet: to lead Iowa past South Carolina, the juggernaut undefeated defending national champions, in the Final Four in Dallas (9:30 p.m., ESPN).

It will be hard for Clark to top the historic 40-point triple-double (41 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists) she tallied in last weekend’s Elite Eight victory over Louisville — especially against South Carolina’s No. 1 ranked defense.

But Clark, 21, has made a collegiate career of topping herself: confidently committing to Iowa, hours from her West Des Moines home, over traditional blue bloods; leading the country in points per game as a freshman; leading the country in points and assists per game as a sophomore; this season, claiming consensus national player of the year honors by averaging 27.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 8.6 assists while taking the Hawkeyes to their first Final Four in 30 years.

Caitlin Clark speaks to members of the media after accepting the Player of the Year award.
USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

“When you couple her edge with her skills and her IQ, that’s what takes her over the top and makes her rare,” admirer and fellow skinny scoring superstar Kevin Durant told the Washington Post this month. “She can pretty much do everything on the floor, score from any angle, shoot deep 3s and create for her teammates. But she has that feisty side to her. She has that dog in her, as people call it. She’s trying to do everything for her team because she can’t lose.”

An upset win — the Hawkeyes are 11.5-point underdogs — will take all three of the qualities that have combined to turn Clark into a crossover phenomenon.

The scoring

The similarities spring to mind as rapidly as Clark pushing pace, pulling up and splashing a 3 from the logo: Steph Curry.

“No shot is a bad shot when you can shoot it as well as she can,” Curry told ESPN. “When you watch them play, she just adds the element of surprise that you can’t really game-plan for. Because it’s so unseen in the sense of when she crosses halfcourt, she’s in her range.”

Clark is shooting 39.2 percent this season on 3-pointers.

Per CBB Analytics, on 190 attempts from beyond 25 feet (the women’s 3-point line is 22 feet, 1¾ inches), she is shooting even better — 42.1 percent.

“When I’m in the gym, I’m shooting transition 3s, a little bit behind the line, and on the move,” Clark said, per The New York Times. “They’re not just shots that I get in the game and put up. They’re shots that I’m continually working on and trying to refine.”

Caitlin Clark shoots the ball against the Louisville Cardinals during the third quarter in the Elite Eight round.
Caitlin Clark shoots the ball against the Louisville Cardinals during the third quarter in the Elite Eight round.
Getty Images

The passing

Clark’s passing acumen is sometimes overshadowed by her scoring highlights.

But she led the nation in assists for the second straight season and became the first Division I player of any gender to record more than 900 points and 300 assists in a season.

“There’s always backlash that I take too many shots or that I’m a ball hog,” Clark said. “My assist numbers speak for themselves, too. I’m scoring. I’m facilitating. I’m leading.”

She has mastered the pick-and-roll with center Monika Czinano, and delivers hit-ahead and cross-court passes with fastball velocity.

With Clark pulling the strings, the Hawkeyes lead the country with a .511 field-goal percentage.

Caitlin Clark reacts against the Louisville Cardinals in the second half at Climate Pledge Arena.
Caitlin Clark reacts against the Louisville Cardinals in the second half at Climate Pledge Arena.

It helps that the transfer-free Iowa starting lineup has built uncommon consistency and cohesion: Clark has started 90 games with the same senior quartet of Czinano, Gabbie Marshall, Kate Martin and McKenna Warnock.

The attitude

A crucial part of Clark’s ascendance — her appeal, really — is how she is collapsing (outdated) assumptions about how women’s players act and yap on the court.

She thumps her chest, barks at refs and eggs on the crowd.

It’s part of the show.

In the Elite Eight, for instance, she was captured telling Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith, “You’re down 15 points. Shut up,” and punctuated a play with John Cena’s signature “you can’t see me” hand gesture (“Even if they could see you…they couldn’t guard you!” the WWE star tweeted).

“A lot of people have been comparing her to Steph Curry because she can hit the tough shot. She can hit the deep, logo 3. She pulls up from anywhere,” ESPN’s Holly Rowe said recently. “But I think a better comparison is if Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi had a baby, it’s Caitlin Clark.

“… She has these moments of composure and running the offense, she’s got a super-high court IQ of knowing what when, making plays happen, and she really reminds me of Sue Bird. … But then she pairs it with the — can I say s–t talking — in-your-face, fist-pumping, swaggalicious vibe. … She’s not afraid of the moment, she loves the moment, and that really reminds me of Diana Taurasi and her ability to score from anywhere, score a lot of different ways, then add the flavor and the competitive fire and juice.”

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