The Caitlin Clark present is off and operating on the NCAA Tournament

The Caitlin Clark present is formally off and operating on the NCAA Tournament.

In one of many least stunning outcomes of the primary spherical, Clark, the celebrity 6-foot level guard, led No. 2 seed Iowa to a lopsided 95-43 win over Southeastern Louisiana on Friday. In true style, Clark was electrifying and assured as she recorded one other masterful efficiency. She scored 26 factors on 9-of-14 capturing in 29 minutes. And she added 12 assists, seven rebounds and two steals to spherical out her stats.

As a group, Iowa shot 60% from the sector and 40% from 3, going 8-of-20.

After not touching the ball for 2 minutes within the third quarter, Clark made a protracted 3 to provide Iowa a 25-point lead. She didn’t have fun — in any case, hitting tough pictures is the norm for her. Instead, she seemed borderline irritated that these had been her first factors of the quarter. Of course, she had 19 factors by halftime.

Clark is one in every of two front-runners for nationwide participant of the 12 months, the opposite being South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston. While the Iowa junior would absolutely like to win that award, this March Madness is extra about revenge.

Last 12 months, the Hawkeyes had been additionally a No. 2 seed and dominated their first-round recreation with a mighty 98-67 victory over Illinois State. In the second spherical, nonetheless, they bumped into match Cinderella Creighton and had been upset 64-62 on their house flooring. Clark, then only a sophomore, had a triple-double within the loss.

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[Everything to know about the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament]

Iowa is contemporary off one other Big Ten championship and appears poised to make a deep run. The program has not been to the Final Four since 1993, however this group appears to have nearly as good an opportunity as anyone else of getting there. There will definitely be some roadblocks — the Hawkeyes are in arguably the hardest area within the ladies’s match. If they beat No. 10 seed Georgia within the second spherical on Sunday, the Hawkeyes may face No. 3 Duke within the Sweet 16 and both No. 4 Texas or No. 1 Stanford within the Elite Eight. 

Make it to the Final Four? Then the Hawkeyes would very doubtless meet South Carolina, a group that could possibly be destined to repeat as nationwide champions. That matchup would pit the 2 finest gamers within the nation — Clark and Boston — in opposition to one another in an epic semifinal recreation.

On Friday, Clark did every part — she stole the ball, shot it, and dished it to her teammates, who she all the time appears to seek out in the suitable spot to make a play.

There’s a protracted option to go earlier than a possible Iowa-South Carolina Final Four matchup dominates the storylines. But after one recreation, Clark and the Hawkeyes look fiery and poised to make it that far.

What else we’re watching

— No. 1 total seed South Carolina blew out 16-seeded Norfolk State, 72-40. Zia Cooke scored 11 factors and Boston had seven factors, 9 rebounds and two blocks because the Gamecocks prolonged their successful streak to 39 video games, courting again to final 12 months’s SEC Tournament. Coach Dawn Staley known as out her group after the sport, although, dissatisfied of their offensive efficiency by which they shot 38.9% from the ground. There was nothing mistaken with South Carolina’s defensive effort nonetheless, as Norfolk State was 16-of-61 from the sector and had 17 turnovers.

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— No. 2 seed Maryland crushed No. 15 seed Holy Cross, 93-61. Brinae Alexander scored a team-high 18 factors, whereas Abby Meyers added 16 factors and Diamond Miller had 13 factors and eight rebounds. The Terrapins had been dominant from the beginning and the Crusaders succumbed to the stress. Maryland scored 37 factors off 24 Holy Cross turnovers, 11 of which got here within the first quarter. The Terps additionally had an edge in factors within the paint (44-24), assists (21-12) and steals (13-8).

— No. 3 seed Notre Dame beat No. 14 seed Southern Utah, 82-56. Maddy Westbeld stepped up and scored 20 factors, whereas Sonia Citron added 14 plus a season-high six assists. The Fighting Irish had no bother on this first-round matchup, however are coping with the lack of All-American guard Olivia Miles, who will miss the NCAA Tournament with a knee damage. This might be a serious storyline to comply with via the tourney, as Notre Dame’s offense ran via Miles. How will they adapt with out their star sophomore? Especially as harder competitors looms in a later potential Sweet 16 matchup in opposition to Maryland.

Laken Litman covers school soccer, school basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She beforehand wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the creator of “Strong Like a Woman,” revealed in spring 2022 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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