NCAA women’s basketball tournament: Clark, Iowa top LSU, reach Final Four

Caitlin Clark

ALBANY, N.Y. — In the most anticipated game in the history of women’s college basketball, featuring two of the sport’s biggest names, the Iowa Hawkeyes and Caitlin Clark came out on top.

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Iowa, led by Clark’s 41 points, seven rebounds and 12 assists, advanced to the Final Four of the NCAA Women’s Tournament with a 94-87 victory against defending champion LSU on Monday night in the Elite 8.

Iowa (33-4), the No. 1 seed in the Albany regional, will face Connecticut (33-5) in the Final Four. UConn won 80-73 against the University of Southern California (29-6) in Monday’s late game in the Portland regional.

LSU finished its season at 31-6.

“We weathered every storm,” Clark said in a postgame television interview.

The other side of the Final Four bracket has already been determined, with unbeaten and overall No. 1 seed South Carolina facing North Carolina State on Saturday in Cleveland.

The game featured the well-publicized rematch between Clark, the all-time leading scorer -- men’s and women’s -- in NCAA Division I basketball history; and LSU’s Angel Reese, the MVP of last year’s NCAA tournament. LSU and Iowa met in last season’s championship game, with the Tigers winning their first national title with a 102-85 victory.

Clark was deadly from outside range, hitting nine 3-pointers during a fast-paced game that saw each team put together long scoring streaks. Four of them came during a decisive third quarter, when the Hawkeyes took a commanding 11-point lead.

Reese, who scored 17 points, had 20 rebounds, three blocks and two steals, fouled out with 1:45 to play.

Kate Martin added 21 points for Iowa. Sydney Affolter had 16.

LSU had four players score in double figures. In addition to Reese, Flau’Jae Johnson added 23 points, Mikaylah Williams chipped in with 18 and Aneesah Morrow scored 14.

While LSU controlled the boards, outrebounding Iowa 54-36, the Hawkeyes were far more accurate from the field, hitting 46.5% of their shots. The Tigers had a shooting percentage of 38.6%.

The score was tied at the half, but Iowa started hot in the third quarter and at one point led by 13, 63-52. However, LSU was able to trim the deficit to 11. Still, Iowa led 69-58 heading into the final quarter as the Hawkeyes outscored the Tigers 24-13 in the third period.

A frenetic, high-paced second quarter saw Iowa overcome an eight-point deficit as both teams battled to a 45-45 tie at the half. Reese was a force inside and finished the first half with 13 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and a pair of steals.

Clark was Iowa’s strength from the outside, finishing the first half with 19 points and five assists.

Iowa jumped out to a 17-9 lead early in the first quarter as Clark led the way with eight points. But after LSU coach Kim Mulkey called a timeout, the Tigers roared back to cut their deficit to 25-21 with 3:29 left in the period.

Reese gave LSU its first lead after a steal and layup with 1:33 left in the period. The Tigers ended the period on a 10-0 run to take a 31-26 lead. Reese finished the period with 10 points and five rebounds. Clark scored just three points after the LSU timeout.

Reese injured her ankle with 8:01 left in the half when she attempted to block a Clark shot and fouled her. She hobbled back onto the court about 90 seconds later.

The 2023 final drew nearly 10 million viewers, making it the most-watched women’s game in television history, ESPN reported.

Clark and Reese are the faces of women’s basketball and have millions of followers on social media. Their rivalry became even more intense near the end of last year’s title game, when Reese did a John Cena-like “you can’t see me” gesture and a “ring me” taunt toward Clark.

Clark did a similar hand wave celebration earlier in the tournament, but it was Reese who bore the brunt of criticism.

Despite the outrage from partisan fans, neither player believed the gamesmanship was a big deal, according to The Athletic.

“I don’t think people realize it’s not personal,” Reese said Sunday. “Once we get out (from) between those lines, if I see you walking down the street, it’s like, ‘Hey, girl, what’s up? Let’s hang out.’ I think people just take it like we hate each other. Me and Caitlin Clark don’t hate each other. I want everybody to understand that.”

“I don’t think Angel should be criticized at all,” Clark said days after the title game on ESPN’s “Outside The Lines.” “I’m just one that competes and she competed. … I think everybody knew there was gonna be a little trash-talk in the entire tournament. It’s not just me and Angel.”

Reese was already prepared when she arrived for warmups at MVP Arena in Albany, placing a crown on the LSU bench.

Clark had 30 points in last year’s game, compared to Reese’s 15, but it was LSU’s defense that proved to be the difference.

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