Iowa’s Caitlin Clark is the undeniable star of March Madness. Now she will get to play in April.
The Hawkeyes’ high-scoring guard, who was named the Associated Press Player of the Year this week, scored 41 points to lead the Hawkeyes over previously undefeated South Carolina 77-73 in the Final Four on Friday night. The loss denied South Carolina — the No. 1 team all season — a chance at a second straight title.
No. 2 seed Iowa will face LSU in Sunday’s title game after the third-seeded Tigers used a big fourth quarter to overtake top-seeded Virginia Tech 79-72.
Clark has wowed fans for the past month and certainly didn’t seem fazed by any pressure against mighty South Carolina. She shot 15 of 31 from the field and hit four clutch free throws in the final minute to keep the Hawkeyes ahead.
LSU used a 29-point fourth quarter to rally for its win over Virginia Tech earlier Friday. Alexis Morris led the way with 27 points.
LSU coach Kim Mulkey has taken the Tigers to their first championship game in program history. The flamboyant coach won three national titles during 21 seasons at Baylor before returning to her home state.
GAME TO WATCH
No. 2 Iowa (31-6) vs No. 3 LSU (34-2), Sunday, 3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC
The Clark show rolls on to Sunday’s championship game. She’s obviously the focus of the Hawkeyes’ offense, but 6-foot-3 Monika Czinano also had a nice game against the Gamecocks with 18 points and three steals. LSU leans on star forward Angel Reese, who is averaging 23 points and nearly 16 rebounds. Morris was also superb in the Tigers’ semifinal win.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Clark was announced as AP player of the year on Thursday after receiving 20 votes from the 28-member national media panel that votes on the AP Top 25 each week. Reese has 113 points and 79 rebounds for LSU through five wins.
Clark had the first 40-point triple-double in NCAA Tournament history to lead Iowa into its first Final Four appearance in 30 years. She followed that with 41 in the semifinals in a performance that somehow managed to live up to the ample hype.
Her stellar postseason has caught the attention of NBA stars. Kevin Durant and Chris Paul were talking about Clark’s performance in the locker room following the Suns’ win over the Nuggets on Friday.
“Incredible run that she’s on,” Durant said. “She’s playing phenomenal basketball, her team is rallying around her, so it’s going to be a good championship game.”
Indiana’s Teri Moren was honored as the AP women’s basketball Coach of the Year after leading the school to its first Big Ten regular season championship in 40 years and its first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Clark won AP Player of the Year after one of the greatest individual seasons in NCAA history with eye-popping offensive numbers, averaging 27.0 points, 8.3 assists and 7.5 rebounds during the regular season to help Iowa go 26-6.
Gun violence has cost lives and disrupted college sports all season, touching some of the top programs in college basketball. Coaches have been thrust into uncertain and unwelcome roles in trying to navigate the topic — as well as the fallout from the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
On a lighter note, the women’s tournament has been making a case for its own separate TV deal, and if you think you know the women’s tournament, try this 25-question quiz.
Want to hear from the athletes themselves? UCLA freshman Kiki Rice and injured UConn star Paige Bueckers have each written diaries for The AP about their “tourney journeys.”
Iowa has opened as a slight favorite — ranging from 1 1/2 to 2 points — according to sportsbooks.
HOW TO WATCH
The title game will be on a national network — ABC — for the first time since 1996.
Every game of the women’s tournament has been available on ESPN’s networks or streaming, with fans encouraged to navigate to the “Watch” tab on ESPN’s sites. There are multiple sites listing game times, channels and other details, including the NCAA site.
Where is the women’s Final Four? In Dallas, where the championship game is Sunday. As it happens, the men’s Final Four is a four-hour drive down the road in Houston.
By The Associated Press