Thursday April 18th, 2024 11:10AM

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

By The Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Caitlin Clark put up another sensational performance to carry Iowa to its second straight Final Four.

The Hawkeyes' superstar guard, whose record-breaking exploits have brought unprecedented attention to women's basketball, made nine 3-pointers and finished with 41 points and 12 assists as Iowa knocked defending national champion LSU out of the NCAA Tournament with a 94-87 victory on Monday night.

“It's amazing to be back in the Final Four. It's so hard to get back there,” Clark said. “This region was really hard, but we told ourselves we are the one seed for a reason.”

Top-seeded Iowa (33-4) will play Paige Bueckers and UConn in the national semifinals Friday night in Cleveland.

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 final last year, and Angel Reese of LSU put on a memorable show for the sold-out crowd and the millions watching.

“I think it’s just great for the sport, just being able to be a part of history. Like I said, no matter which way it went tonight, I know this was going to be a night for the ages,” said Reese, who had 17 points and 20 rebounds before fouling out with 1:45 left. “And just being able to be a part of history is great. Playing against another great player, of course, is always amazing."

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 for one more season.

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.

“There’s not a lot of strategy. You’ve got to guard her. Nobody else seems to be able to guard her,” LSU coach Kim Mulkey said. “We didn’t even guard her last year when we beat them. She’s just a generational player, and she just makes everybody around her better.”

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.

Kate Martin scored 21 points for Iowa and Sydney Affolter added 16.

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 March Madness single-game record, 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.

“I got hyped for a second,” Clark said. “When you are playing a team like LSU, they are never out of the game. No matter what the time or score is. Do not start celebrating or get too emotional. They are going to fight until the end.”

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 women's NCAA Tournament history.

Iowa led 17-9 before Mulkey called 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 rolled her right ankle on a TV camera on the baseline and hopped off the court. The trainers looked at it 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. She matched Courtney Moses of Purdue in 2012 and Kia Nurse of UConn in 2017 with her nine 3-pointers.

“My shot felt good in warmups. Helps when you make your first 3 as a shooter,” Clark said. “Made my first to start the second half, that helps too. Nice to have a game where I got some good looks from 3.”

UP NEXT

The Hawkeyes only played in the national semifinals one time previously before last season, and that was in 1993. They lost to UConn in Clark's freshman year in the Sweet 16.

___

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

  • Associated Categories: Sports, Associated Press (AP), AP Sports, AP Online Basketball, AP Sports - Women's College Basketball, Top Sports Stories
© Copyright 2024 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.