Clark carries Iowa past Reese, LSU to Final Four

Clark carries Iowa past Reese, LSU to Final Four

In a game billed as the battle between college basketball’s biggest stars, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark shined the brightest.

Clark scored 41 points to lift the top-seeded Hawkeyes past defending champion LSU 94-87 in a rematch of the 2023 NCAA Tournament championship game. Iowa (33-4) advances to the Final Four for the second straight year and gains a measure of revenge against the team that knocked out the Hawkeyes in last year’s title matchup.

For the second consecutive year, Clark notched 40-plus points to seal an Elite Eight victory for the Hawkeyes. Last year, she scored 41 to beat Louisville. This year, she notched the same total. In addition, Clark tied the NCAA Tournament record with nine 3-pointers and broke open a 45-45 halftime score with four 3-pointers in the third quarter.

“This one probably feels a little better with it being my senior year,” Clark told ESPN’s Holly Rowe after the game.

Clark’s theatrics overshadowed a brilliant and tenacious performance by LSU superstar Angel Reese, who scored 17 points and grabbed 20 rebounds before fouling out late in the fourth quarter. Flau’jae Johnson added 23 points to lead the Tigers (31-6).

In the victory, Clark broke the NCAA women’s all-time record for 3-pointers made (540) in a career, passing Oklahoma’s Taylor Robertson (537). It was the 20th game that Clark had 30-plus points and 10-plus assists in her career. Clark also has three 40-point double-doubles in an NCAA Tournament setting (Elite Eight, 2023; national semifinal, 2023; Elite Eight, 2024).

Iowa is seeking its first title and will face the winner of No. 1 USC and No. 3 UConn in the Final Four on April 5.

What this means for Iowa

As big as the Hawkeyes’ national semifinal win was against South Carolina last year, this victory was bigger. Losing to LSU in the title game lingered for an entire year. It was as painful a moment for the postgame taunting as it was for the defeat on the court.

It was the third time in the last five years the Hawkeyes and coach Lisa Bluder met a Kim Mulkey-coached team with their season at stake. The previous two outings — in 2019 against Baylor and last year against LSU — turned into tough losses. This time, Iowa pulled out a win.

Bluder, the winningest coach in Big Ten history, now has her second team qualifying for the Final Four, an important milestone in her legacy. As for Clark’s legacy, she’s solidified a strong argument as the game’s greatest player.

What this means for LSU

The third-seeded Tigers ran through a gauntlet in the NCAA Tournament, starting with a pair of tough games on their home floor. Then in beating UCLA in the Sweet 16, LSU appeared to build momentum toward this high-profile matchup. The first half went the Tigers’ way in building an eight-point lead.

But then Angel Reese suffered an ankle injury that caused her to leave the game and changed the game’s momentum. Reese still battled for much of the game before fouling out, but it was obvious the injury affected her.

It’s difficult to repeat as champions, and in a year with quite a few distractions, LSU still competed at a high level. The biggest lingering question remaining is whether Reese declares for the WNBA Draft or decides to stay in Baton Rouge. No matter what, the Tigers will remain a contender under Mulkey.

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(Photo: Sarah Stier / Getty Images)

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