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Hawkeyes ‘will do some celebrating’ after Elite Eight win, but ‘the job’s not finished’
Caitlin Clark was undeniable Sunday with the Final Four squarely in her sights
SEATTLE — She’s somewhat spellbinding, really.
Caitlin Clark asks the crowd for noise, she gets noise. She tells you she’s going to the Final Four, who’s going to stop her?
In a career chock-full of stat-sheet stuffing and highlight-reel stuff, Clark was undeniable when her biggest goal was squarely in front of her.
Forty-one points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists. And so much substance to go with her style.
“She played great. She made some big shots. She passed the ball well,” Louisville Coach Jeff Walz said after third-ranked Iowa eliminated the Cardinals, 97-83, in an NCAA women’s basketball regional final Sunday at Climate Pledge Arena.
“You tip your hat. I'm a huge Caitlin fan.”
So the Hawkeyes (30-6) are off to Dallas, home of the Final Four. Instead of flying home, they’ll head straight to Texas on Monday.
They’ll face No. 1 South Carolina or No. 6 Maryland in a national semifinal Friday.
This is what Clark and Bluder discussed during the recruiting process.
“I can remember sitting in her living room and her saying, ‘I want to go to a Final Four,’” Bluder recalled. “And I'm saying, ‘We can do it together.’ She believed me, and I'm very thankful for that.
“She is spectacular. I don't know how else to describe what she does on the basketball court.”
Clark either scored or assisted on Iowa’s first 30 points Sunday. She controlled the game, and the crowd, like a magician. A puppeteer.
“You feel kind of powerful. It's kind of cool,” she said, in reference to her ability to work a crowd in the Hawkeyes’ favor. “But I mean, when we go on a run like that and get stops, the energy in the crowd is pretty incredible. I don't think people realize how much that affects us on the court.”
There were two junctures in which the Hawkeyes looked wobbly.
Louisville (26-12) scored the first eight points, sending the Hawkeyes to their largest deficit of the postseason thus far.
Bluder called timeout at the 7:45 mark of the first quarter. By the 6:27 mark, Clark scored on a drive, a steal and layup and a 3-pointer, and Iowa was right back in it at 8-7.
The Hawkeyes led by as many as 12 points in the second quarter before settling for a 48-43 halftime advantage.
“We are such a veteran team that everyone just kind of knew we had to stay true to ourselves and just be ourselves in that moment,” McKenna Warnock said. “That could have blown up a lot worse than it did.
“And I'm really proud of this group and we really just focused on our defense one step at a time and we knew that our defense leads to our offense.”
Iowa’s second fork in the road came early in the third quarter. The Cardinals scored the first two baskets of the second half to get within 48-47.
Gabbie Marshall had a pair of 3-pointers, Warnock scored inside and Clark hit a trey in an 11-0 run send the lead to 59-47.
“They come out in a box-and-one to start the third quarter, a defense we haven't seen in a couple games, and nobody is flustered,” Clark said. “Gabbie steps up after missing I think four 3s in the first half, three of which rimmed in and out and went off the backboard.
“So I think that speaks to Gabbie's confidence. She makes 'em, two huge 3s for us, and then I make a 3, (Walz) has to use a timeout, and it's really like, ‘What do you do from there,’ because it felt like that was their last resort defensively.”
Bluder said, “We have always believed we have a lot of great shooters and you really can't do that junk against us because of that.”
At 67-57, Marshall and Clark hit back-to-back triples to trigger an 11-0 run, and the Hawkeyes could see Dallas on the horizon.
After the game, the Hawkeyes justifiably took their time on the court, savoring the program’s first Final Four trip in 30 years. Clark retrieved the game ball.
“I chucked it to my dad,” she said. “I hope they got out of the arena in time, so the NCAA can't chase 'em down.”
“I told 'em to run. I'll get it later at the hotel.”
It was a late night when the Hawkeyes left the arena, and it figured to get even later at the hotel.
“I think we’ll do some celebrating,” Marshall said.
Monday, it’s wheels-up for Dallas.
“The job's not finished,” Clark said.