With Caitlin Clark leading the show, Iowa’s reach is limitless

DALLAS — Lisa Bladder recalls going to Caitlin Clark’s high school basketball games and hearing kids yelling “overrated” from the bleachers.

At the time playing for Dowling Catholic in West Des Moines, Iowa, Clark had to do it all alone. It was tough, but it earned him all kinds of accolades, from Gatorade Player of the Year to five-star recruit, to breaking and holding multiple state basketball records.

When Clark arrived at Iowa as a freshman, Bludger had to figure out how to find his balance of being Clark while also teaching him how to play within a system.

“In his freshman year, I definitely pulled my hair out a few times,” said Blooder, Iowa’s head coach for more than two decades. “There’s no doubt about it. He had to learn how to play with other players who were good players.”

Bludger made the comments on Thursday, a day before his program’s first appearance in the Final Four since 1993.

“It wasn’t just controlling what he did because I think that’s the type of player you ruin when you try to suppress someone like that,” Bluder said. “What she does alone is special. I think if you try to tell her what a good jab is, [that’s not fair] Because what is a good shot for him is very different from what is a good shot for someone else. To be honest, she has a different set of rules than other people, because she can do things that other people can’t.

One thing it does very well is launch and build Logo 3 on a regular basis. The list of players who have scored at will from such distance is short and populated by the likes of Steph Curry, who made the most three-pointers in NBA history.

Clarke, who was named the Naismith Player of the Year this week, presents a problem similar to Curry’s for opponents: If a defender tries to pick her off from that distance, she simply blows past them and the midfield hits her. Pulls above the range. Or drive for the layup.

It is also a luxury for his companions.

Iowa guard Kate Martin said, “If you have to guard someone about 100 feet off the field, there are more opportunities for other players.”

Clarke said she usually tries those shots against tough defenses to isolate them. So there’s no better time to fire off some of those shots than on Friday, when Iowa takes on No. 1. 1 overall seed South Carolina in the Final Four.

The Gamecocks, who are the defending national champions and poised to become the fourth program to successfully defend their title, have the most impressive and dominant defense in the country. This season, they held opponents to the fewest points (50.4) and lowest field goal percentage (31.2%), while only three teams managed 70 points. He has yet to allow a player to score more than 25 points in a game this season. The last player to score 30 points against this team was Paige Bueckers of UConn on February 8, 2021. However, Diamond Miller of Maryland came close, scoring 24 in the Elite Eight.

That shouldn’t surprise Clark, who is averaging 27.3 points per game and has had 12 30-point games this season. In addition, she became the only player to record a 40-point triple-double in an NCAA tournament game—women’s or men’s—when she had 41 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds against Louisville in the Elite Eight.

On Thursday, Clark said she couldn’t remember when she first started bombing 3s from deep, but she described the mechanics of her 3-point attempts as changing no matter how far she goes.

Caitlin Clarke hits from the deep!

Iowa forward Kaitlin Clark hit a deep 3-pointer earlier in the season, scoring a triple-double against Ohio State.

“When I’m in the gym working on my game and taking pictures, I shoot from behind,” she said. “It’s not like I come to the game and [start] Launch, and they somehow get inside. Although sometimes it seems so.

“I think it all stems from belief in the work I do.”

Monica Zinano, the team’s second-best scorer with a 17.2 PPG average, remembers when she first realized Clark could do it. They sparred over the summer and slowly Clark would go back and forth. His shots were going in.

“I saw him at the gym and walked in [and been like]”Oh, she shoots logos, she must be having fun,” Zinano said. “No, she sits on the gun and shoots from there.”

South Carolina limits opponents to 26.4% shooting from behind the bow. Iowa shot 37.9% from there, led by Clark, who shoots 39% on nine attempts per game. He has hit 10 three-pointers of 30 yards or more in his career, including six this season.

The three of Clarke’s teammates who played meaningful minutes – Gabe Marshall, McKenna Warnock and Martin – shot better than 37% from deep. But all the Gamecocks will have to worry about is Clarke firing from about halfway down the track.

No other hockey player would ever dare to do this.

“No,” said Chief Guard Kate Martin. “We know our limits.”

But Littman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for Fox Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of Strong Like a Woman, published in Spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow him on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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