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Caitlin Clark reaches new level as she leads Iowa past LSU and into the Final Four

ALBANY, N.Y. — Caitlin Clark walked alone down a long hallway at the back of MVP Arena Monday night, with no coach or teammate in sight. Well, she wasn’t completely alone: ​​security and two photographers followed her every move. The field opened up before her as she ran through the tunnel and emerged before crowds of fans waiting to see college basketball’s all-time leading scorer. A buzz started when people started to notice, and it turned into a full roar when she stepped onto the hardwood 75 minutes before the match.

Moments later, Angel Reese walked over to the LSU bench, which was on the side of the court where Clark was shooting, and placed a sparkling wreath on the ninth chair. A teammate would place this crown on Reese’s head after it was announced during introductions.

It was what everyone was waiting for. The revenge of last year’s national championship game. One more chance to see Clark and Reese – the two faces of college basketball – meet once again, the Final Four on the line.

That aforementioned roar would continue for over two hours of gameplay as Clark created a performance that won’t soon be forgotten. No. 1 seed Iowa advanced with a 94-87 victory over No. 3 seed LSU, as Clark burned defenders with 41 points and 12 assists, along with seven rebounds and two interceptions. It was the 13th 40-point game of his storied career, and his nine three-pointers tied an NCAA tournament single-game record.

Iowa will be heading to the Final Four for the third time in franchise history and the first time in consecutive seasons. On Friday, the Hawkeyes will face third-seeded Connecticut, which beat top-seeded Southern California 80-73 in Portland, Oregon, on Monday night.

LSU coach Kim Mulkey held the back of Clark’s head and pulled her close during the postgame handshake line.

“I’m really glad you’re leaving,” Mulkey recalled. “…Girl, you are something else. I’ve never seen anything like it.

There were plenty of contributors to Iowa’s victory and a defensive effort that locked LSU into a game-changing third quarter, but the night was all about Clark. She opened the game three seconds deep and did the same in the second half. LSU’s Hailey Van Lith guarded Clark most of the night, but it didn’t matter who had the responsibility. Clark looked for her shot as she crossed half court and hit basket after basket. At one point, she tore the string around Reese’s outstretched arm, and the Tigers star simply shrugged with his palms raised.

“There’s not much you can do about some of the threes she hit,” Van Lith said.

In the least shocking announcement of the week, Clark was named the region’s most outstanding player.

“At the beginning of the year, everyone kept saying, ‘Oh, Iowa lost so much,'” coach Lisa Bluder said of her Hawkeyes, who were always the No. 1 team. #2 in the nation in preseason polls. “ “They lost this entire offense and two starters. “We continued to focus on what we had.

Before anyone settled in, the Hawkeyes led 12-4 with three baskets from Clark. The Tigers, however, would close the first quarter with a 14-3 run as Reese took over for a time. She scored eight in a row, and after a steal and a layup, Reese turned to the sideline, screamed and shook her head back and forth while jumping on the court.

The teams went into halftime tied at 45 after an exhilarating 20 minutes.

The game was decided in the third quarter when Iowa used a 15-3 run to take a 65-52 lead, and it never trailed again. Clark made three three-pointers during that stretch. She let her emotions run wild in the fourth quarter when she buried three more to give the Hawkeyes an 80-69 lead with 5:05 to play; she turned to the crowd, beat her chest and screamed as Iowa fans celebrated.

“I think I was just excited for a second, honestly,” Clark said. “I was trying to be pretty calm and cool. When you play a team like LSU, they are never out of the game, regardless of time or score.

“I think that’s the only score I celebrated.”

LSU seemed to lose a lot of its emotional energy in the second quarter when Reese twisted his ankle and had to leave the game. She immediately moved to the side, spent a moment on an exercise bike and paced behind the bench before returning and immediately hitting a hook. The ankle was clearly an issue as she limped around the court for the rest of the night, but Reese still finished with 17 points, 20 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals. It was his 26th double-double of the season. LSU forward Aneesah Morrow finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds. Kate Martin added 21 points for Iowa.

The basketball world will have at least one more chance to see Clark in an Iowa jersey before she enters the WNBA draft, where she is almost certain to be the Indiana Fever’s No. 1 pick. Reese has not yet announced whether she will enter the draft, but she is expected to be a first-round pick if she does.

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