Iowa’s Caitlin Clark says a championship would be ‘the cherry on top’ but hopes her legacy is greater than that |T




Caitlin Clark the Iowa Hawkeyes speaks to media during interviews ahead of the 2024 NCAA Women's Final Four National Championship against the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Caitlin Clark the Iowa Hawkeyes speaks to media during interviews ahead of the 2024 NCAA Women’s Final Four National Championship against the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

With one game remaining in the storied college career of Iowa guard Caitlin Clark, the national player of the year is focused on the task at hand but expects a “wave of emotion” no matter the outcome in Sunday’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament final.

“I don’t have many emotions of, like, this is the end for me,” the legendary college athlete said ahead of the championship. “I certainly know it is, but I don’t think I can go into the game feeling that. I don’t think that would allow me to play my best.”

“I think once the buzzer hits zero, whether we win or whether we lose, I’ll definitely be hit with a wave of emotion, especially over the course of the next week, as things kind of change in my life quite a bit,” she went on. “I think (I’m) just trying to enjoy every single second because I’m fortunate enough to be able to be in the National Championship again and give it everything I got.”

But the 22-year-old senior did acknowledge that a national championship would be the perfect ending for what is one of college sports’ most celebrated careers.

“That would be the cherry on top,” she said. “That would be the top of the list, the thing that you’re most proud of. That’s something you get to share with your teammates.”

CLEVELAND, OHIO - APRIL 05: Caitlin Clark #22 of the Iowa Hawkeyes reacts after beating the UConn Huskies during the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament Final Four semifinal game at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on April 05, 2024 in Cleveland, Ohio. Iowa defeated Connecticut 71-69 (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

The Iowa Hawkeyes are one win away from running one of the most impressive gauntlets imaginable. Iowa defeated reigning national champs LSU in the Elite Eight to avenge last year’s defeat in the championship. Next, at the Final Four, the Hawkeyes squeaked past UConn, the most successful program in women’s college basketball history, boasting 11 national championships.

Now the Big Ten champs face the sport’s current juggernaut, South Carolina. The 2022 champion Gamecocks have reached the Final Four each of the last four years and sport a perfect 37-0 record on the season.

“We’ve had a couple of tough losses, and I think that’s what’s made us ready for these type of moments,” Clark said of facing South Carolina, which Iowa defeated in the Final Four last year.

“This matchup, you can’t ask for anything better,” she said. “It speaks to the way women’s basketball has been tremendous on all levels all throughout the year.

“We know we have our hands full. Everybody around the country knows South Carolina has been the team all year. They’ve deserved that. They’ve earned it. They’ve just been incredible.”

Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said Saturday that finishing this run with a championship would be a storybook ending for her team.

“I keep feeling like we’re playing in games everybody wanted to see – the LSU game, the UConn game, and now the South Carolina game. We’ve been tested for sure. We’re battle tested,” Bluder said.

“It would mean a lot to our program because it’s never happened before. So obviously that’s for Iowa,” she said. “But for those five seniors, and especially for Caitlin, to be able to go out like that would be just an unbelievable accomplishment. Also, we love our fans. We would love to bring that home to the state of Iowa.”

The magnitude of the moment was likewise not lost on South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley as she spoke to the media Saturday.

“I think it’s a monumental game,” Staley said. “We’re very fortunate to be a part of it. We get to witness firsthand the legacy of Caitlin Clark. You watch her. You prep for her. You can’t help but to really love how she dissects the game. You love how she executes.”

Clark was quick to reject the suggestion that the success of her career would be measured by whether she wins a national championship. The all-time leading scorer in NCAA Division I basketball history hopes her legacy will be greater than records she broke and games she won.

“I don’t want my legacy to be, ‘Oh, Caitlin won X amount of games’ or ‘Caitlin scored X amount of points,’” she said. “I hope it’s what I was able to do for the game of women’s basketball. I hope it is the young boys and young girls that are inspired to play this sport or dream to do whatever they want to do in their lives.

ALBANY, NEW YORK - APRIL 01:Caitlin Clark #22 of the Iowa Hawkeyes celebrates after beating the LSU Tigers 94-87 in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on April 01, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

“To me, for it to come down to 40 minutes, and for me to validate myself within 40 minutes, I don’t think that’s a fair assessment,” she said.

Staley wasn’t afraid to admit that she will be among those hoping Clark comes up short in her swan song.

“If Caitlin wins the championship, she’s pretty damn good, yeah, like, she’s a GOAT,” the South Carolina coach said Saturday. “I mean, she’s really damn good regardless. But winning the championship would seal the deal. I hope to the dear Lord she doesn’t.”

As for Clark, she’s enjoying every moment of her final March Madness.

“I don’t want this to end, whether it’s with a win or with a loss,” Clark said. “I think the biggest thing is you have that little fire inside of you. It’s been the same throughout my entire career. I’ve had some tough losses, and I think those are the moments that have prepared me for right now for this opportunity.

“At the end of the day, it’s a game of basketball. You give it everything you’ve got, but I have a lot of appreciation for the way our team has carried ourselves and all the stuff that we’ve accomplished, and we’re going to give it everything we can to be able to go out there and be able to hoist the trophy tomorrow.”


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