Caitlin Clark will take the stage in a Cleveland Final Four loaded with star players, power programs


CLEVELAND — The final shows for Caitlin Clark’s tour are booked in an arena just a short drive from the Rock & Roll Hall Fame.

Hello, Cleveland.

College basketball’s biggest act — men’s or women’s — will close out her magnificent Iowa career this weekend in the Final Four after Clark delivered a 41-point, 12-assist performance in a win over defending champion LSU.

It was vintage Clark, and typical Clark.

“When the stage is the brightest, when the spotlight is the brightest, she’s at her very best,” Iowa coach Lisa Bulder said Monday on a Zoom call. “She loves this. Some people wither in the moment. She just gets stronger in the moment.

“When it’s her time, she’s going to just shine.”

Clark, who has spent this season rewriting record books, signing autographs for adoring fans everywhere she goes and excelling despite enormous pressure, will lead the Hawkeyes (33-4) in Friday night’s second semifinal against UConn (33-5), one of the game’s preeminent programs back for a 23rd time under Hall of Fame coach Geno Auriemma.

In the other semi, undefeated South Carolina (36-0) puts perfection on the line against North Carolina State (32-6), a No. 3 seed that already has pulled off two upsets in the NCAA Tournament and has sights on a third.

“Hey, we’re coming to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, you got to crash the party, right?” Wolfpack coach Wes Moore said with a smile.

Make no mistake, this is Clark’s party.

She has been the dominant story this season, a generational talent who has lived up to expectations and even pushed beyond them. So maybe it’s fitting that Clark will take her last collegiate shots on the same floor where LeBron James rose from hyped high school phenom to NBA superstardom.

The game’s best shooter, Clark has hardly missed.

With the stakes as high as possible on Monday night in Albany, New York, Clark came through. Naturally.

A year after losing in the NCAA title game to the Tigers and star Angel Reese, who famously taunted her in the closing seconds, Clark got even in the rematch with a few clicks of her right wrist.

She dropped nine 3-pointers while passing UConn great Diana Taurasi’s tourney record for 3s, and Clark moved past Oklahoma’s Taylor Robertson for the most 3s in a career for Division I players.

At one point in the second half, LSU guard Hailey Van Lith, who was given the impossible assignment of guarding Clark, reacted with a shrug and a “what am I supposed to do?” expression after watching another 3 fall.

For Bluder, it was nothing new. But the setting made this more special.

“Her distant 3s were spectacular,” Iowa’s coach said. “We asked her to try to get to the rim in the first quarter. I thought she did. She did a great job of that. We wanted her to get some high-percentage easy ones to begin with, and she did.

“In the third quarter, when she took that distant 3 and she nailed it to get us going, I knew then we were in good shape. I never want to talk about her without talking about her passing. Absolutely unbelievable.”

While fans across America tuned in to watch Iowa-LSU Part II on a celebratory night for women’s hoops, Moore wasn’t one of them. He had a legitimate excuse: game planning for the talented Gamecocks.

Moore spent the day in his office dissecting film of coach Dawn Staley and her SEC champions, who have shown moments of vulnerability during March Madness but head into the weekend favored to cut down the nets in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Sunday.

Moore said when he walked into the house his wife was watching Iowa and he caught Clark putting the finishing touches on LSU.

“I saw the last minute,” he said. “But I’ve seen the highlights. I saw her up close and personal last year. We were fortunate. We went to Iowa a year ago and won. We held Caitlin Clark to 45. I can’t believe I didn’t have coaches calling me last year for my scouting report in the NCAA Tournament.

“She is amazing.”

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



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