Caitlin Clark and Iowa advance to women’s Final Four after beating 2023 champion LSU

CNN — The sequel didn’t have the exact same cast as the original. College basketball doesn’t work that way.

But the two prominent stars from the NCAA women’s basketball tournament a year ago – Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and LSU’s Angel Reese – remained front and center in the sport. Monday night, they both lived up to the hype, but it’s the sharp-shooting Clark who gets to play on.

Clark had 41 points – including going 9-of-20 from three-point range – to go with 12 assists and seven rebounds, and No. 1 Iowa topped No. 3 LSU 94-87, a rematch of last year’s NCAA title game, to advance to the Final Four for the second consecutive season.

“Job’s not finished,” Clark said on the court to ESPN after the win.

Up next for Iowa is a program synonymous with the Final Four and winning national championships: No. 3 UConn, who held off freshman phenom JuJu Watkins and No. 1 USC 80-73 in the regional final in Portland, Oregon.

It will be the 23rd Final Four appearance – and 15th in the last 16 NCAA tournaments – for the 11-time national champion Huskies, all under head coach Geno Auriemma. It will be the third Final Four for UConn star Paige Bueckers, who missed last season with a torn ACL.

This might be most unlikely Final Four trip of them all, as UConn, decimated by injuries this season, had a depleted roster.

Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the women’s bracket, undefeated and top overall seed South Carolina will face No. 3 NC State in the Final Four. Those two teams clinched their spots with wins on Sunday.

The women’s Final Four is set to happen Friday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio, and the national championship game is scheduled on Sunday.

Clark, who has the most career points in Division I history for women and men, is a generational talent. The 22-year-old is projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft on April 15.

But before the WNBA, she has one last shot for a national title.

After the game, the Iowa superstar shared a moment in the handshake line with Reese and LSU head coach Kim Mulkey.

“(Clark) just told me, ‘Continue to be a great player,’ and I told her continue to be a great player, as well, and keep elevating the game and go win it,” Reese said.

“What did I say to her? I said, ‘I sure am glad you’re leaving,’” Mulkey said. “I said, ‘Girl, you something else.’ Never seen anything like it.”

Was revenge on Iowa’s mind after what happened last year?

“To be honest, no,” Clark said.

A rematch for the ages
While Iowa and LSU were facing each other in the Elite Eight, the contest at MVP Arena in Albany, New York, had the energy and intensity of a national championship game.

Despite rolling her ankle in the second quarter, Reese had her 10th consecutive double-double in the NCAA tournament, tying the tournament record, with 17 points and 20 rebounds before fouling out with 1:45 left. She also had four assists, three blocks and two steals.

Kate Martin added 21 points for Iowa, while Sydney Affolter had 16. LSU’s Flau’jae Johnson had 23 points.

The last time Clark and Reese squared off – with Reese famously waving her hand in front of her face toward Clark and then pointing to her ring finger as LSU closed in on the national title – it was the most-watched women’s college basketball game in history. The matchup in 2023 was compared to when Magic Johnson faced Larry Bird in the 1979 NCAA men’s title game.

But Johnson and Bird didn’t have a Part II (at least not in college) like Clark and Reese did.

Clark keeps adding to the record books, breaking the NCAA’s all-time record for three-pointers made in a career during Monday’s game, surpassing Taylor Robertson of Oklahoma.

Clark also broke the NCAA tournament record for most assists (140) and three-pointers (70) in 15 career games.

It’s not known if Reese, last year’s Final Four Most Outstanding Player, will return to LSU or head to the WNBA. Reese, who will be 22 in May, is a junior.

“I’ll make a decision when I’m ready,” Reese told reporters after the game.

UConn wins thriller against USC
While a rematch between Iowa and LSU was the big talker heading into the NCAA tournament, the later of Monday night’s Elite Eight matchups was compelling, too.

USC’s Watkins, just 18 years old, is second in the nation to Clark in points per game this season. On Monday in Portland, while on her way to 29 points and 10 rebounds, she set the record for most points scored by a freshman in a single season.

But the Huskies prevailed, as Bueckers, who recently was hailed by Auriemma the “best player in America,” led her team with 28 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.

Bueckers, a 22-year-old redshirt junior, announced in February she would return to UConn for one more season instead of opting for the WNBA.

In 2021, she became the first freshman to win the Naismith, Associated Press and Wooden player of the year awards.

“Just so much joy and pride for this team,” Bueckers said. “I’m so proud. We’re not even supposed to be here, and here we are.”

Notably, USC and UConn were playing at the Moda Center in Portland – the site where it was discovered Sunday that the three-point lines on the court were uneven and not the same distance from the basket.

In a statement earlier Monday, NCAA vice president for women’s basketball Lynn Holzman said the issue was corrected, and the court is now in “full compliance with NCAA playing rules.” She added what happened in Portland “was an isolated incident.”

“We apologize for this error and the length of time for which it went unnoticed,” Holzman said. “Simply put, this court did not meet our expectations, and the NCAA should have caught the error sooner.”

Star power in women’s NCAA tournament

To channel the movie “This is Spinal Tap,” the amplification on this night of the NCAA tournament went to 11.

“RIP to the viewership numbers, right? It’s going to crush everything,” USC head coach Lindsay Gottlieb said Sunday.

“I think we would all tell you, right, it’s USC against UConn, and it’s LSU against Iowa. But star power drives narratives in athletics. It’s why the NBA took off, you know, when there were faces to it, going all the way back to Magic and Larry and Michael Jordan.”

“The NCAA got it right, because tonight’s women’s tournament matchups are one of the best in history!” Johnson said in a post on X.

“There is star power on all four teams, great coaching, and all have outstanding storylines on how they made it to the Elite Eight! As a basketball fan and a fan of women’s sports, this is heaven for me!”

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