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Caitlin Clark and Iowa survive in final college home game

At the free throw line, in the silence of the building, Caitlin Clark had a ball and a game in her hands Monday night. It was a familiar sight in Iowa City, although the fourth quarter didn’t follow the usual script. Clark had grown cold as West Virginia surged. Two of her teammates – Sydney Affolter and Hannah Stuelke – had given the top-seeded Hawkeyes the lead, but it was Clark who had the chance to seal the victory in her final match at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and sending Iowa to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

She sank the first free throw. The second, too, sparked a resounding cheer from the crowd of 14,324. With four more free throws in the final minute – she made 11 of 12 for the game – Clark and the Hawkeyes cruised to a 64-54 victory. THE top scorer of all time in NCAA Division I basketball scored 32 points in an emotional final act on campus. She also broke Kelsey Plum’s Division I women’s single-season record of 1,109 points. (Clark has 1,113 and counting.)

Next, Iowa will face fifth-seeded Colorado in the regional semifinal Saturday in Albany, New York. If the Hawkeyes win this one, they could meet LSU, the team they lost to. in last year’s title matchin the Elite Eight.

Clark came out firing, hitting three three-pointers in the first quarter. But in the second, the eighth-seeded Mountaineers clamped down, forcing it to nothing more than a quick layup. The Hawkeyes had nine turnovers at halftime. The score – Iowa led 26-24 – gave WVU a chance. The Hawkeyes won the third quarter, overcoming the Mountaineers’ 12-2 run to build a 10-point lead. Clark scored 13 in the period. But West Virginia tied it at 48 with five minutes left in the fourth. Then it was 52-52, and the arena was on edge.

By then, Iowa had missed all seven of its fourth-quarter shots. But then Affolter, a junior guard, drove left, hit a running layup and completed the three-point play. Stuelke then committed a shooting foul and made it a two-possession game. West Virginia, paced by 15 points from guard JJ Quinerly, didn’t go away. But when Quinerly and Jordan Harrison fouled out, the Mountaineers lacked answers.

Midway through the third quarter, as Iowa found its rhythm, one of Clark’s State Farm commercials aired on ESPN. In the fourth, during a Hawkeyes timeout to stem a WVU run, one of his Gatorade commercials aired. The ads show how she turned her dominance on the court into life-changing profit. She has name, image and likeness (NIL) partnerships with State Farm, Gatorade and Nike, among many other companies. She has her own cereal with Hy-Vee. Soon, whenever Iowa’s run ends — whether at Albany or Cleveland, with Clark down or hoisting a national championship trophy — she should become the Indiana Fever’s No. 1 pick in the draft. WNBA.

She has so much basketball ahead of her. She just wants four more games with Iowa, preferably them all winning.

For Clark’s Iowa debut, Carver-Hawkeye Arena was essentially empty. It was November 25, 2020, eight months after the start of corona virus pandemic. The Hawkeyes hosted Northern Iowa. Clark, a prized recruit from West Des Moines, finished with 27 points, eight rebounds and four assists. She made three threes.

This was years before Fox began broadcasting Caitlin Clark, a stream of only her. If a freshman announces herself in a gym and no one is there to see her, does she make any noise?

So who could have imagined that, on Monday evening, the same arena would be packed? It’s normal now, in Iowa and wherever Clark plays. But what Clark has done, perhaps more than anything, is expand what’s possible in women’s basketball. She just won’t do that at Carver-Hawkeye Arena anymore.

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