Log in

Caitlin Clark set for last shot, final bow of inspiring career at Iowa in NCAA championship


CLEVELAND (AP) — This is where it ends for Caitlin Clark. One more, with feeling.

The superstar's career at Iowa, a four-year journey in which she inspired thousands of girls and boys, turned casual fans passionate and helped transform the women's game, will finish on Sunday in the NCAA championship game.

It's a final act for the sensational Clark, the two-time AP Player of the Year who owns virtually every scoring record that exists and can close her college chapter with the one thing that has eluded her — a title.

“That would be the cherry on top," Clark said Saturday on the eve of a matchup against unbeaten South Carolina. “That would be the top of the list, the thing that you’re most proud of. That’s something you get to share with your teammates.”

For the second straight year, Clark and the Hawkeyes (34-4) stand between the Gamecocks (37-0) and perfection. A year ago in the Final Four, South Carolina carried a 36-0 record into its matchup with Iowa before Clark dropped 41 points on the Gamecocks in a 77-73 win.

That stinging loss stayed with the Southeastern Conference champions, who would like nothing more than to get some sweet revenge.

“Yes, I was definitely looking forward towards that, just going on from last year," Gamecocks guard Raven Johnson said. "But I’m just going to enjoy the moment and think that this game is really big for us and it’s big for women’s basketball. That’s how I look at it.”

All you had to do was see the 11,000 fans who attended open practices at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Saturday to see how much the game has grown — and how much Clark has meant to it.

And they weren't just kids or fans dressed in Iowa's black and gold, either. The stands were filled with moms, dads, coaches who brought their teams and average sports junkies who came to see Clark in person and maybe hoist a 3-pointer from the midcourt logo.

Clark rarely misses a moment to shine. When it was Iowa's turn to take the floor, she quickly pleased the crowd by picking up a ball and sinking her first shot, the swish drawing huge a cheer.

It won't be nearly as easy against South Carolina. Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley, who is seeking her third national title since 2017, and her staff will try to design a game plan to stop the game's best outside shooter.

Many have tried, few have succeeded.

Staley also appreciates what this game — in this season — means for her sport. The perfect player vs. the perfect team. A perfect ending.

“It’s a monumental game for our game,” she said. “We’re very fortunate to be a part of it. We get to witness firsthand the legacy of Caitlin Clark. You watch her. You prep for her. You can’t help but to really love how she dissects the game. You love how she executes.

“I mean, it’s simple. Her game is simple and yet powerful. How do you defend fundamental basketball with offense with fundamental defense? You can’t. She’s going to win every time. So you’ve got to show her different looks in order for her to not settle in and picking you apart. We got to defend. We got to put some points on the scoreboard.”

While Clark's legacy seems unassailable, some feel she can't be mentioned among the game's best without winning a championship. She's not about to get caught up in any kind of debate on the subject.

She's confident her legacy will triumph over whatever happens on Sunday. She's done too much for that.

"For it to come down to 40 minutes and for me to validate myself within 40 minutes, I don’t think that’s a fair assessment,” the 22-year-old said.

Along with the adulation, Clark has learned to accept that there will always be naysayers and doubters.

"When you’re in the spotlight like this, there’s going to be a million different opinions on you,” she said. “For as many people that are going to love you, there are going to be people that don’t like you. That’s the case with every professional athlete, men or women, playing at the highest stage.

“What I’ve been able to do over the course of my career is just focus on the opinions of the people inside our locker room. That’s what I really care about, the people that I love to death, the people that have had my back every single second of my career, have been the ones that have believed in me more than anybody.”

It's all been building for Clark, who has waited a lifetime for this moment.

One last shot.


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