DALLAS — Caitlin Clark has captured the attention of basketball fans with her historic performance in the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa’s sensational guard will try to finish off the unprecedented run she’s led the Hawkeyes on with a championship when they face LSU on Sunday in the title game.
“I think winning a national championship is how you put a final bow on it,” Clark said. “I think that’s the best way, but we’re going to give it everything we have for 40 more minutes. We know that’s all we have left of our season.”
The dazzling guard, who grew up in Iowa, became the first women’s player to post back-to-back 40-point performances in the NCAA Tournament after her 41-point game lifted the Hawkeyes over previously unbeaten South Carolina in the Final Four.
Now she’ll try to etch her name next to some of the greatest ever to win a title — like Cheryl Miller, Sheryl Swoopes, Chamique Holdsclaw, Diana Taurasi, Candace Parker, Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson.
Another SEC team stands in the way: LSU and coach Kim Mulkey, who was impressed watching Clark on Friday night.
“That’s my first time to see her play in person, and I didn’t get to watch the game because I had to deal with (the media),” Mulkey said. “When I did get out there, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. Gosh, she’s special. She’s special.”
While her team doesn’t have any title experience, Mulkey has been in this position three times before when she was coaching Baylor. Each time she came away with the title.
To keep that perfect record intact, LSU will have to find a way to slow down Clark.
“Iowa is a great team and I’m going to give credit where it’s due. They have the best player, the player of the year, Caitlin Clark,” LSU guard Alexis Morris said. “She’s amazing. I respect her game.”
It took Mulkey five years to get Baylor to the championship game. She did it in two with the flagship school in her home state after beating Virginia Tech in the semifinals.
The Tigers made the Final Four in five straight seasons from 2004 to 2008 led by women’s basketball greats Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles. LSU could never get to the title game until now. The men’s team also had never made it before either.
“It is so exciting — I don’t even know how old LSU is,” Mulkey said. “I don’t even know when they started playing men’s or women’s basketball, but it has to be a long time ago. And to think all those great players that have played in the NBA and the WNBA, and they never played for a national championship. That’s mind-boggling to me.”
Big Ten history
Iowa is looking to become only the second Big Ten team to ever win the national championship, joining Purdue, which did it in 1999 under Carolyn Peck. The last women’s team from the conference to play in the title game was Michigan State —and lost to Mulkey and Baylor in 2005.
Big Ten connection
Angel Reese and Kateri Poole are no strangers to Clark, having played against her when they were in the Big Ten. Reese, the former No. 2 overall prospect out of St. Frances, transferred from Maryland, while Poole left Ohio State.
“Luckily, me and Kateri have played them before in the Big Ten, so I know what Caitlin brings to the table for sure,” Reese said. “Just making sure that third and fourth player, making sure they don’t go off and get their 20 points, that’s going to be the difference.”
Reese has been one of the biggest stars of the season in her own right — especially in March. She is the first player to record 100 points, 70 rebounds, 10 blocks and 10 steals in a single NCAA Tournament, according to ESPN. The Baltimore native has also set the Southeastern Conference single-season record for rebounds with 545 and counting.
“I think LSU, by itself, has put women’s basketball on the map,” Reese said after Friday’s win. “We’ve grown women’s basketball for being who we are.”
Reese’s brother, Julian, a former St. Frances star and current sophomore forward for the Maryland men’s basketball team, attended Friday’s game to celebrate.
Clark has been compared to LSU great Pete Maravich ever since she was in high school. It’s a not far-fetched comparison, according to Iowa’s guard.
“I am familiar with his game. I’ve seen a lot of his highlights,” Clark said. “Obviously a tremendous compliment. I saw somebody called me like Ponytail Pete or something like that. I thought that was kind of funny. I think just a tremendous compliment. Like you said, I take a lot of pride in being able to do a lot of different things for my team, whether it’s scoring, but also I think the passing can get overlooked at times.”
NCAA women’s national championship
No. 2 seed Iowa vs. No. 3 seed LSU
Sunday, 3:30 p.m.
Baltimore Sun staff contributed to this article.