Iowa is headed to the Final Four of the women’s N.C.A.A. tournament for the second time in program history after Caitlin Clark led an offensive assault on fifth-seeded Louisville in a 97-83 win.
An offensive assault is, perhaps, an understatement. Clark finished with 41 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists, the first 40-point triple-double in any N.C.A.A. tournament game, men’s or women’s.
Even when the Cardinals shrank Iowa’s lead at moments, the question became less about which team would advance to the national semifinals on Friday in Dallas and more about what else Clark might accomplish in her spectacle on the floor.
By halftime, Clark had 22 points, 3 rebounds and 8 assists. How much more could she pile on?
A lot, it turned out.
When Clark scored her first 3-pointer of the third quarter, Mykasa Robinson of Louisville looked exasperated, with good reason.
Clark, a finalist for the 2023 Naismith national player of the year award, had a stat line so gaudy that ESPN added a small “Caitlin Clark triple-double alert” band atop the scoreboard for its telecast as she chased her clinching rebounds and kept putting up points.
It didn’t seem like it would be so one-sided from tip-off. Hailey Van Lith and Louisville came out of the gate quickly, putting up 8 points in the first two minutes before Iowa had anything on the board.
This was not the first time Clark and Van Lith met on the court. The pair roomed together while playing for U.S.A. Basketball’s under-19 team in 2019, and ahead of Sunday’s game, Clark called Van Lith the Cardinals’ “engine.”
Near the end of the first quarter, Clark rebounded the ball and flew across the court for her signature 3-point money shot. That started a turnover and shooting spree — another 3-pointer by Clark, a 3-pointer by Kate Martin off a turnover, and another jumper by McKenna Warnock. From there, the rest was effectively a showcase.
When Iowa pulled ahead by 16 in the third quarter, Clark raised her arms in the air, a conductor of the orchestra assembled in Climate Pledge Arena. The crowd, largely wearing black and gold, responded with deafening cheers. “You feel kind of powerful,” she said with a laugh after the game. “It’s kind of cool.”
The Hawkeyes’ lead would grow to 22 points early in the fourth.
Still, Louisville did not slow down. Near the end of the game, Robinson stole the ball from Clark and raced across the court for a layup. The response was muted. There wasn’t enough time left to mount a proper rally.
After the game, Louisville Coach Jeff Walz pointed toward the high score, almost double that of the other regional final held Sunday, with Louisiana State topping Miami. “I thought we had to score in the 80s, but you just got to tip your hat to them,” he said.
With just over a minute left, Clark looked around. She had come into this game calmer than usual. She had visualized this moment time and time again. She put her hand to one ear. Then the other. The crowd rose to its feet in unison.
Ahead of the game, Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder said she wanted her team to approach this game like every other one. Pressure can create “some abnormal behavior,” she said, and she uses the mantra “be us” with her team.
And so Clark was Clark, and Warnock supplemented her with 17 points and 5 rebounds.
As Clark walked around the Seattle arena one last time, she held the regional trophy under her arm like a skateboard. There were young Iowa fans screaming for autographs, parents pleading for photos, and suddenly, a security guard flanking her.
Iowa’s last national semifinal berth was in 1993. But Clark and Bluder discussed getting there again, despite the heavy competition at the top of the sport.
“She believed in me, and that was really all that mattered,” Clark said as her coach nodded, the game net around her neck.
This was Louisville’s fifth straight tournament in the round of 8. Last season, the Cardinals advanced to the Final Four but were denied a trip to the championship game after a loss to South Carolina.
Iowa will face either top-seeded South Carolina or No. 2-seeded Maryland in the Final Four in Dallas on Friday.
Off shooting night can’t stop L.S.U.
Miami’s defense was playing at its peak. The Hurricanes had forced the Louisiana State star forward Angel Reese to miss all nine of her first-half shots in Sunday’s round-of-8 matchup in the women’s N.C.A.A. tournament. But at halftime, in a game that statistics suggested Miami should have been dominating, L.S.U. was up by 6 points.
That trend continued in the second half. Though L.S.U. displayed one of its worst shooting games of its season, the Tigers’ defense stifled Miami even more, and L.S.U. won, 54-42, to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2008.
Reese, who was named the most outstanding player in the Greenville 2 Region, produced her 32nd double-double of the season, filling the box score with 13 points, 18 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. The Tigers were led by 21 points from Alexis Morris, who kept them going in the mistake-filled first half. On Friday in Dallas, L.S.U. will play the winner of Monday’s game between No. 1-seeded Virginia Tech and No. 3-seeded Ohio State.
“I am the comeback kid,” said Morris, a fifth-year senior who played at Rutgers, Baylor, and Texas A&M. Morris, wearing the basketball net she had just cut down around her neck and a Final Four hat, added: “I beat it. I beat the odds.”
As confetti fell and players cut down the net, they gathered in a circle and danced at midcourt, Coach Kim Mulkey doing her best version of the popular griddy dance. By the end of the celebration, Mulkey was walking around the arena barefoot.
“I want to put a championship banner there some day,” Mulkey, a Louisiana native, said, adding: “South Carolina, I’ve said it from Day 1, is an unbelievable team and should win it all. But I’d sure love to be in that championship with them.”
Mulkey came to L.S.U. two seasons ago after 21 seasons and three championships at Baylor. The Tigers began this season with a largely new roster, adding nine players. Morris was the only returning starter.
“We don’t have to win a championship to see how much they love us,” Mulkey said of L.S.U.’s fan base. “I think they are going ‘What are we doing in year two? Are you kidding me?’”
Reese was among the newcomers, having transferred from Maryland in the off-season in search of a fresh start and moments like the Tigers had on Sunday, she said.
“We were underdogs all year and now to be in this moment; It’s just so joyful and exciting,” she said, adding: “I think that was what was important for me. And I needed Coach Mulkey. That’s just what I needed.”
The teams both missed more than two-thirds of their shots and combined for just a single 3-point basket in 27 tries, with the Tigers’ Kateri Poole hitting the only one after L.S.U. was well in control. “If you sit here and tell me L.S.U.’s going to shoot 30 percent, 8 percent from three, and 57 percent from the free throw line I’m thinking I’m cutting down a net right now,” Miami Coach Katie Meier said.
Meier said she thought Miami’s defensive plan worked, and pointed to Reese’s low field goal percentage. But the strategy opened the door for Morris, whom Meier credited as “the reason they’re out there and I’m sitting in here right now.”
The first half Sunday featured messy offense by both teams. They clanked open shots, turned the ball over and struggled to find a rhythm.
“If I was watching this game, I’d turn it off,” Mulkey said in an ESPN interview ahead of the fourth quarter.
The second half wasn’t much cleaner. Still, Reese’s rebounding created second-chance opportunities for the Tigers, who capitalized with layups to extend their lead and cruise to the win.
The Miami starting guards, Destiny Harden and Haley Cavinder, who were among the Hurricanes’ scoring leaders in their three upset wins in this tournament, combined to finish 1 of 15 from the field with 5 points. Almost all of Miami’s offense came from Jasmyne Roberts, who finished with 22 points and scored 18 of Miami’s first 27.
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