March Madness 2022: Get ready for the Caitlin Clark takeover

By Laken Litman
FOX Sports Writer

By now, the whole country knows Caitlin Clark.

Iowa’s 6-foot sophomore point guard has quickly become a college basketball sensation. This season, she was named Big Ten Player of the Year and leads the country in scoring (27.4 points per game) and assists (7.9). No other women’s college basketball player has led the nation in both categories in one season. Former Oklahoma and current Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young is the only men’s player to do it.

Clark guided Iowa to a program first in winning the Big Ten regular season and conference tournament titles. She has scored more than 30 points in eight games this season, with five triple-doubles. She’s a speedy and skillful playmaker. She has exceptional court vision and is a sharpshooter. 

It took Clark only 40 games to reach 1,000 career points. She shoots and banks shots from the half-court logo — often. She’s a top candidate for National Player of the Year. She has multiple NIL endorsement deals. She has received shout-outs from LeBron James on Instagram and Kevin Durant on his podcast. Sue Bird called her the sport’s most exciting player. To top it all off, she has the alliteration thing going for her, which only amplifies her household name.

The Hawkeyes, a No. 2 seed in the NCAA women’s tournament, are riding a seven-game winning streak as they head into their opening game Saturday against No. 15 seed Illinois State. One year ago, with Clark leading the league in scoring as a freshman, Iowa made it to the Sweet 16 but was bounced by UConn by a 20-point margin. While that was a bummer of an ending, Clark scored 21 points in the loss and gave the sport a taste of what was to come.

This season, Clark has “Big Ten Champions” and “Final Four” written in her locker as a reminder of her goals. The Hawkeyes have already crossed one of those things off the list, and they have a solid shot at the second. 

On the way, Iowa could see in-state rival No. 3 Iowa State — which beat the Hawkeyes on the road in December — in the Sweet 16. The Cyclones have senior star Ashley Joens, a future first-round WNBA draft pick, who is averaging 20.2 points and 9.5 rebounds. 

With a win against the Cyclones, the Hawkeyes would likely face No. 1 overall seed South Carolina in the Elite Eight. That matchup would feature the sport’s most exciting players and NPOY front-runners: Clark and Gamecocks forward Aliyah Boston. The 6-foot-5 junior is on fire right now, with a streak of 24 double-doubles. She was named SEC Player of the Year and averages 16.8 points, 12.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. 

Needless to say, it would be huge for Iowa to win that potential showdown. In fact, it would mean the program’s first Final Four appearance since 1993. 

Clark’s numbers tell a great story by themselves. She affects the game in every way, leading her team in scoring, rebounding, assists, free-throw percentage and attempts. But while women’s college basketball has seen a lot of stars come through — it seems like yesterday when it was Sabrina Ionescu lighting up the league — there hasn’t been a player quite like Clark. She brings that wow factor, that Steph Curry effect, where every time she has the ball, it’s must-see TV.

Clark has been unstoppable all season, but her best month came in January, when she averaged 30.4 points, 9.1 assists and 7.7 rebounds. That included her 43-point scoring frenzy in what ended up a 92-88 loss to Ohio State on Jan. 31. In the fourth quarter, Clark put the Hawkeyes up by one after hitting a 3-pointer from the logo and gave the crowd the “Jordan Shrug.”

Six days later, in a road loss to Michigan, Clark recorded her 12th double-double of the season and third 40-point game. She scored a career-high 46 points, 33 of them in the second half and 25 in the fourth quarter. She made four 3-pointers in the fourth, including two from the logo, and she had 10 rebounds. Naturally, those highlights went viral.

Caitlin Clark finds the range

Caitlin Clark finds the range

Caitlin Clark hits multiple 3-pointers from the logo, putting up 46 points and 10 assists in a losing effort for Iowa against Michigan.

Often, big stars play for the brand-name programs. Boston plays for South Carolina, Paige Bueckers for UConn, Haley Jones for Stanford, NaLyssa Smith for Baylor, and the list goes on. Megan Gustafson won the Naismith Trophy at Iowa in 2019 and took the program to an Elite Eight her senior year. But the Hawkeyes don’t normally get as many five-star or All-American players as other schools. 

Clark is from West Des Moines and could have gone to a blue-blood program such as Notre Dame, but she picked Iowa because playing close to home was important to her. Plus, Gustafson had recently graduated, and Clark could envision the opportunity to do something big for her hometown team.

Some nights, it seems Clark could be a powerful offense all on her own. But she’s surrounded by a strong cast of starters, including Monika Czinano, Kate Martin, McKenna Warnock and Gabbie Marshall, all of whom play close to 30 minutes per game.

This Iowa team has the potential to go deep in this tournament, and with that, Clark’s stardom will undoubtedly continue to skyrocket. And lucky for basketball fans, she’s only halfway through her college career.

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously covered college football, college basketball, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team and the Olympics at Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. Her first book, written in partnership with Rizzoli and Sports Illustrated and titled “Strong Like a Woman,” will be published this spring marking the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

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