Caitlin Clark has made her name on her scoring. This is what fills the highlight reel—her buzzer beaters, her logo shots, her dramatic baskets. But her passing game is what truly sets her apart. The same court vision that makes her such an effective scorer makes her unrivaled as a distributor. And it was that passing ability that was crucial to punching Iowa’s ticket to the Sweet 16 on Sunday.
Clark took control late to seal No. 2 Iowa’s 74–66 win over No. 10 Georgia. Of the team’s 33 second-half points, 31 of them ran through Clark, either scored or assisted by her. (And the remaining two points were the ones physically impossible for her to have had a hand in: They came on a pair of free throws by Monika Czinano.) It was a showcase of Clark’s ability to take over a game. Yet the 12 assists on her final line stood out more than the 22 points: Yes, Clark is the most electric player here, but Iowa is at its best when she can count on facilitating the offense among her supporting cast.
“I knew I needed to step up and make plays for this team,” Clark said. “I thought I was able to pick apart their zone with my eyes and get the ball inside…. When I'm able to pass the ball and get over 10 assists, I feel like it gives our team the balance we need to reach the goals that we want to achieve.”
Or put more simply?
“I really did not want to let this team lose again in this round,” Clark said.
This weekend is where the Hawkeyes season came to an end last year—playing at home, in the second round, a No. 2 seed against a No. 10. Their starting five was the same. Last year, however, Clark and Czinano looked more or less on their own in their elimination game. No other scorer reached double figures. This year was different. Clark repeatedly fed her favorite target, Czinano, a model of efficiency in the paint who finished with 20 points. But she also dished to Gabbie Marshall, who scored 15, and McKenna Warnock, who added 14.
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It all led to a far more balanced and cohesive effort than the one that sent out the Hawkeyes on this weekend last year.
“We have always preached ever since I've been here giving up a good shot for a great shot. I think we're really good at that,” said Marshall, who did all of her scoring from beyond the arc. “Obviously, Caitlin is really good at finding her teammates and knowing who is hot. We have [been] playing together so long that we know where each other is. Just how to get each other open, and I feel like they knew I was hot and they got me the ball in the right spot. And it just opens things up more inside for Monika too.”
The Hawkeyes still left this game with plenty to think about. They were overwhelmed at times with tough defense from Georgia. Their 17 turnovers were above their season average. They were outrebounded by a margin of 42 to 29, and if not for some repeated misplays down the stretch by the Bulldogs, this one might have ended up even closer than it was.
But they did enough to get back to the Sweet 16—and, if Clark has anything to say about it, even beyond that.
“This wasn’t our goal,” Clark said. “It’s one of the steps to reaching our goal. But it’s not the be-all end-all to us. This is the first weekend and it’s done with. And now we have the second weekend. And we hope there’s a third weekend, too.”