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Caitlin Clark and Hannah Stuelke Help Iowa Defeat UConn In A Thriller

Iowa Hawkeyes Defeat UConn Huskies 71-69 In A Thriller to Advance to National Championship

It was a Final Four showdown headlined by two of the most heralded women in college basketball in the last half-decade in Iowa Hawkeyes and reigning AP Player of the Year, Caitlin Clark, and UConn Huskies and 2021 AP Player of the Year, Paige Bueckers. 

Their games contrast in style of play with Clark being of the Stephen Curry ilk and Bueckers with an all-around two-way game who can score on all three levels and a good on-ball defender.

Both were coming off spectacular Elite Eight showings with Clark recording 42 points with nine threes and 12 assists against the LSU Tigers and Bueckers recording 28-10-6 against Juju Watkins and the USC Trojans.

The Huskies were looking to win their 12th national title in the Geno Auriemma era and the Hawkeyes looked to reach the national title game and win their first.

Both teams came ready to start the game with the Hawkeyes playing man-to-man against the Huskies to start. Clark looked anxious to begin, converting on just one of her first four shot attempts.

The Huskies were pressuring the Hawkeyes early, forcing three turnovers on Iowa within the first five minutes of the game. Huskies guard KK Arnold got off to a strong start scoring six of the first 13 Huskie points as the aggressive attacker early on.

The Huskies’ game plan to fullcourt pressure Clark was genius and had a tremendous impact on frustrating Clark offensively, being unable to get open and create any slither of space to demoralize her opponents from deep as we’ve all become accustomed to her doing.

Huskies guard Nika Muhl was the primary defender on Clark who was a complete pesk on Clark like a mosquito in the summer that won’t leave you alone… She was relentless in Clarks' airspace and made her work tirelessly to get open.

Bueckers, like Clark, also got off to a slow start shooting 1-of-4 from the field but the hot start of Arnold, Aaliyah Edward's presence in the paint, and Muhl’s defense helped negate her poor start.

In the second quarter, both teams struggled to hit shots consistently. The Huskies would eventually go on a 7-0 run to take a 28-16 lead midway through the second. The lack of any elite shot creators outside of Clark on Iowa was being exposed. Would her teammates step up?

The answer would be yes as the Hawkeyes went on a 10-2 run to make it a four-point game, 30-26 off a Clark drive and Sydney Affolter finish.

The first half ended with both teams shooting inefficiently from the field, the Huskies shooting 40% and the Hawkeyes 37%. The Hawkeyes were careless with the ball in the first half committing 12 turnovers, allowing the Huskies to accumulate 11 steals and 13 points off turnovers.

The first half saw Clark and Bueckers struggle offensively with Clark going 3-of-12 from the field and 0-of-7 from downtown, the first game of her career going a half

without a made three. Bueckers on the other side shot just 3-of-9 and looked a bit out of sorts on some possessions offensively.

Second Half

The second half started with a UConn turnover that converted into a made Hawkeyes three by Gabbie Marshall to get things off right for Iowa. Clark picked up her second foul early in the third with over six minutes left to play and had to be cautious playing aggressively defensively as she was too valuable for her team to be in foul trouble.

Coincidentally, Arnold of the Huskies committed her third foul moments later as the Huskies started to have some foul trouble with Muhl also having two at the time and backup center Ice Brady having two.

Muhl’s tireless defensive effort on Clark from the first half carried over to the second half, but Clark made adjustments slowing down offensively and giving what the defense gave her instead of forcing the issue like she did in the first half.

Clark’s adjustment was evident on a four-point play off a three she was fouled on by Muhl. She converted on the free throw to put the Hawkeyes within one 44-43 as they started to gain momentum.

Arnold would pick up her fourth foul and Muhl would get injured hobbling back to the locker room but would return to the game moments later.

Clark not only started to find her offense on her shot but was magnificent as a facilitator having some beautiful bounce passes out of the screen-and-roll to Hannah Stuelke who was the unsung hero this game with a struggling Clark scoring 23 points.

The score was tied at 51 apiece heading into the fourth after the Hawkeyes poured on 25 in the third after scoring just 26 in the entire first half.

The fourth started with the Hawkeyes taking their first two-possession lead of the game with Clark hitting a stepback three to give the Hawkeyes a 56-51 lead. Brady would come right back with a faceup jumper to put the Huskies back within three but would pick up her fourth foul moments later  to send Clark to the line,

It was like watching a boxing match between two elite heavyweight fighters exchanging jabs at each other back and forth with no one seemingly able to gain an advantage.

The Hawkeyes took their biggest lead of nine points off a Kate Martin fadeaway who also was a key contributor for Iowa, finishing with 11 points on 5-of-11 from the field while also contributing on the glass with eight rebounds and had two steals.

The Hawkeyes found a rhythm offensively in the second half due to protecting the basketball better and valuing possessions as they turned the ball over less frequently in the second half (5) than in the first half (12).

In crunchtime, Bueckers missed a corner three to put the Huskies within one but Muhl would hit the three on a second chance opportunity to put the Huskies within one 70-69 with 49 seconds to go!

How would the Hawkeyes respond? Their biggest offensive possession of the season with a chance to punch their ticket to the national championship game to play the undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks led by Dawn Staley.

The Huskies and all of America knew who the ball was going to… Caitlin Clark as the Huskies sent a double at her, which forced it to give it up to Stuelke, leading to an Iowa turnover.

The Huskies failed to capitalize on the other end as the most controversial call of the night heard around the sports world when Edwards was called for an illegal screen on Marshall with 3.9 seconds left in the game.

The emotions and disgust with the call spewed out of Huskies coach Geno Auriemma’s face as it was a call many questioned if it should be called during those kinds of circumstances instead of letting the players decide the fate.

Clark got fouled and went to the line, the most pivotal free throws of her career. She cashed the first to put the Hawkeyes up two but missed the second, but Marshall came flying in the lane to secure the rebound as the Huskies failed to do simple basketball 101… Boxing out.

Iowa would get the possession arrow in a jump-ball situation and eliminate all hope for a potential magical ending for the Huskies.

The Hawkeyes prevailed to win the game 71-69 in a thriller. Clark finished with 21-9-7 to go with two steals. It wasn’t just the Clark show though like the LSU game was,  as the others showed up in a big way with Stuelke, Martin, and Affolter combining for 42 points in a night where Clark struggled with her efficiency.

On the other side, the Huskies’ big four of Nueckers, Edwards, Arnold, and Muhl combined for 57 of the Huskies’ 69 points but it wasn’t enough to secure the win.

Iowa will now play South Carolina on Sunday at 2 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN in the matchup everyone wanted to see for the national title. The Gamecocks have suffered one loss in the last two seasons and that was against Clark in the Final Four last year when she delivered a mind-blowing performance of 41 points, eight assists, and six rebounds in a 77-73 victory.

It’ll take more than Clark to defeat a highly talented and deep South Carolina team. Others, such as Stuelke, Martin, and Marshall will have to step up like they did against UConn and Clark to be more efficient if they want to win the first national title in program history.

See you Sunday folks.


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