Caitlin Clark leads Iowa past UConn to second consecutive national championship appearance

Caitlin Clark leads Iowa past UConn to second consecutive national championship appearance


CLEVELAND – Gabbie Marshall knew it immediately.

The moment she ran into UConn forward Aaliyah Edwards, Marshall knew she moved and that an illegal screen should be called.

Just moments later it was and with three seconds left on the clock, and Iowa clinging to a one-point lead, the game was all but sealed. Iowa beat UConn 71-69 and is now preparing for its second straight national championship game, while UConn is going home in heartbreaking fashion.

All Marshall, who has made big defensive stops for Iowa all year, could do is rejoice.

“I was so happy and excited,” Marshall said. “I knew in my mind that it was. It was her third moving screen of the game, we knew it was a huge moment.”

In a game that was touted as Iowa’s Caitlin Clark versus UConn’s Paige Bueckers, two of the last three national players of the year, the result was about much more than them.

Bueckers finished with 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting. Clark had 21 points on 7-of-18 shooting, but neither team would’ve been in the game if their stars alone were the only people to show up.

The Huskies got a big boost from Edwards, who despite the final foul had 17 points and eight rebounds. KK Arnold, who got the steal with under 10 seconds to set up the final possession had 14 points, 5 assists and 5 steals in her first Final Four.

But it was Iowa’s supporting cast that made the difference. Forward Hannah Stuelke was Iowa’s leading scorer with 23 points. It was only the second time this year that Clark didn’t lead the Hawkeyes in scoring.

“I think tonight she played with an energy about herself of she really could go in there and dominate,” Clark said. “She goes toe to toe with Aaliyah Edwards, who in my mind is one of the best players in the country.”

Iowa, though, has been a team led by Clark but also one that gets major contributions in big moments. Like Sydney Affolter, who rebounded the missed free throw from Clark with three seconds left. Or Kate Martin who had 11 points and 8 rebounds.

Iowa’s supporting cast stepped up when needed and especially when Clark struggled to open the game.

She shot 3 of 11 and didn’t make a 3-pointer in the first half from the field early, and UConn opened up a 12-point lead with 5:18 left in the first half. Then Affolter scored 6 of Iowa’s final 8 points to cut the lead to six going into the second half.

From there, it was a back-and-forth affair. Clark made her first 3-pointer with 8:39 left in the third quarter and sent the sold-out crowd at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse into a frenzy.

The Huskies made a comeback of their own in the fourth quarter.

With Iowa’s offense in a groove, UConn trailed by nine points with 5:42 left. For UConn’s injury-depleted team that played just six, it seemed like it had run out of gas after playing most of the season with a shortened bench due to injuries.

Still, UConn rallied.

“Our doctors, they do a really good job of just making sure that we’re resting, recovering, getting the treatments that we need,” Bueckers said. “And then just us being competitors, us being just grateful that we’re here and trying not to take any of it for granted and not thinking about being tired or thinking about what aches, what hurts, how tired we are. And just being grateful that we’re here and just trying to continue to play with that heart and play with the mentality of not being tired.”

Trailing by four points with 50 seconds left, guard Nika Mühl stole a bad pass from Martin and hit a 3-pointer on the other end. Then came Arnold’s steal that set up UConn’s final possession.

Instead of getting a shot up, though, UConn went home after the illegal screen was called.

“Everybody can make a big deal of that one single play, but not one single play wins a basketball game or loses a basketball game,” Bueckers said. “I feel there were a lot of mistakes that I made that could have prevented that play from even being that big or causing the game. So, you can look at one play and say, oh, that killed us or that hurt us. But we should have done a better job, I should have done a better job of making sure we didn’t leave the game up to chance like that and leave the game up to one bad call going our way and that deciding it.”

But it was that play that locked in one more game for Clark in an Iowa uniform and a rematch against top-seeded South Carolina after the Hawkeyes ended their undefeated season in the Final Four last year.

Required reading

(Photo: Steph Chambers / Getty Images)


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