Clark, last years upset in mind, propels Iowa win

    M.A. Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Caitlin Clark said it ran through her mind that Iowa had been here before.

Almost a year ago to the day, the No. 2-seeded Hawkeyes were upset at home by a 10-seed in the women’s NCAA tournament.

On Sunday, again before a sold-out crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa was in the same spot: No. 2 vs. No. 10, close game late. With a two-point lead and the ball in her hands with less than a minute left, Clark had one goal.

“I wasn’t going to let us lose again,” Clark said. “I knew I could go get us a bucket. Definitely, there’s pressure … but you wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Clark scored, and the Hawkeyes held on for a 74-66 win over Georgia, sending Iowa to the Sweet 16 in the Seattle 4 Regional, where the Hawkeyes will face the winner of Monday’s matchup between Duke and Colorado.

It will be the second Sweet 16 appearance for Clark; the Hawkeyes also got that far her freshman season in 2021, when they lost to UConn.

Last year, 10th-seeded Creighton beat Iowa 64-62 in the second round en route to the Elite Eight. That disappointment was a topic the Hawkeyes didn’t avoid addressing on Sunday. Clark recalled that she missed a contested layup with 8 seconds left in that game, one that would have given Iowa a one-point lead.

Against a tough Georgia defense on Sunday, she finished with 22 points and 12 assists, becoming the only women’s player to have back-to-back NCAA tournament games of at least 20 points and 10 assists, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

During one stretch on Sunday, Clark scored or assisted on 27 consecutive points. She has scored or assisted on 58% of her team’s points in the Hawkeyes’ two tournament wins so far.

Her last basket came as she dribbled time off the clock then got past her defender for a pull-up jump shot with 47 seconds left. It put Iowa up 70-66.

Clark closed out her scoring on four free throws: Georgia was called for an intentional foul when Gabbie Marshall was hit in the face (Clark took the foul shots), and Clark then was shoved to the floor for two more free throws.

Clark mostly just shrugged off the late-game chippy plays; she said she is used to that by now and doesn’t let it rattle her. Iowa didn’t have reserve post player Hannah Stuelke — she injured her ankle in the final minutes of Saturday’s practice — and that made the Hawkeyes all the more dependent on their very experienced starting five.

Those players accounted for all of Iowa’s points: along with Clark’s 22, Monika Czinano had 20 points, Marshall 15, McKenna Warnock 14 and Kate Martin three.

Clark, who leads Division I in assists per game, is now averaging 8.6, along with 26.8 points. She has made 115 3-pointers.

“Unbelievable passer. Her vision is so incredible. She can sit here and recite plays,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said of Clark. “She can see things unfolding. It’s a real gift. She is a beautiful passer. It’s not just one or two games; it is all the time.”

Asked about her final-minute basket, Clark described it step by step and said she was glad she got the chance to take it.

“I’m never going to shy away from that,” Clark said. “Even if the shot doesn’t go down, I want to be the one having the ball in my hands. I know I can do it for this team.”

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