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Clark's Hawkeyes outlast Bueckers' Huskies, advance to national title game

Clark's Hawkeyes outlast Bueckers' Huskies, advance to national title game

It’s going to be the best player in the country vs. the best team in the country in the national championship game after all.

Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes survived a thrilling game against Paige Bueckers and the UConn Huskies 71-69 in their NCAA Women’s March Madness Final Four matchup Friday night at the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, Ohio.

The National Player of the Year recipient put up 21 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists to lead the Hawkeyes to their second straight national title game appearance and a meeting against the 36-0 South Carolina Gamecocks.

Clark, who scored 17 points in the second half after just 4 at halftime, was clutch in the 4th quarter. She tallied 8 points and dished 3 assists, making big plays after big plays.

But perhaps none bigger than the play with 1.1 seconds to go with Iowa inbounding from the baseline. In a display of high basketball IQ, Clark threw the ball off the back of an unsuspecting Bueckers with her back turned towards her and the baseline to waste time off the clock. With just 0.3 seconds on the timer, Iowa inbounded the ball again to essentially win the game. 

“I watch a lot of basketball and I understand basketball and she had her back turned to me. So the biggest point was – you know the biggest thing at that point in the game is like you just want the clock to go down,” Clark said when asked about the play. “I mean you don’t want to give them the ball but she had her back completely turned so I just tried to waste some clock, and you know – it just came into my brain – so I just went for it and it worked.”

However, Clark and Iowa’s brilliance in the 4th quarter and the clutch were overshadowed by a crucial call late in the game. With Iowa just leading by one 70-69 with 9 seconds left and UConn having possession for the final shot, Aaliyah Edwards was called for a questionable moving screen call to give the ball back to the Hawkeyes – setting up for Clark’s end-game brilliance.

Bueckers, who played all 40 minutes of the game, scored 17 points in UConn’s losing effort while fellow All-American teammate Edwards and rookie KK Arnold had 17 and 14 respectively in a heartbreaking game for the Huskies.

Helping Clark survive the battle against Bueckers was Hannah Stuelke who played perhaps the best game of her life by contributing 23 points on 9/12 shooting. Kate Martin chipped in 11 points and 8 rebounds for the no.1 seeded Hawkeyes, who will now move on to face the formidable Gamecocks who have yet to lose a game for the season.

South Carolina took care of business earlier in the night against Cinderella team NC State 78-59 to keep their dream perfect season alive entering Sunday’s title game.

As for Bueckers, she and UConn will end their season a game short of the title game – a feat she has accomplished twice now in her career. A symbol of resilience and togetherness all season long, Bueckers and UConn led by legendary coach Geno Auriemma lost 6 players during the season to injuries and came into the final four with just 7 available players.

Nevertheless, Bueckers will have one final shot at a national championship next year with hopefully a fully healthy and complete UConn squad with her best friend and 2021 HS no.1 recruit Azzi Fudd in the fold.

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