Clark showcases passing prowess as Iowa marches on

Mar. 30—ALBANY, N.Y. — If anyone needed a refresher, Caitlin Clark again provided proof to the nation she's more than just a sharpshooter.

The Iowa star and face of her sport shot just 3-of-11 from 3-point range Saturday, but she dished out 15 assists, all five starters scored in double figures and the top-seeded Hawkeyes (32-4) advanced to the Albany 2 Regional final with a dominant 89-68 victory against fifth-seeded Colorado (24-10).

"It's one thing to guard a great scorer," Buffaloes coach JR Payne said. "It's another thing to guard the leading assist getter in America as well. That's what I think makes (Clark) so deadly is not just the scoring — which in and of itself is pretty incredible — but it's the ability to — if you can stunt that or stilt that a little bit, she's going to find the person that's open."

Clark's long-distance shooting has made her one of the most marketable basketball players of any gender, but her passing ability rarely gets the same kind of spotlight.

Her 17 career triple-doubles rank second in NCAA history — among men or women — to former Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu (26), and the 6-foot guard is averaging 8.8 assists this season.

Clark's pin-point accuracy can make Iowa nearly impossible to defend in transition — a fact Colorado learned the hard way.

"Obviously, I didn't shoot it as great from three, but I thought my penetration to the basket was really good," she said. "I think that also led to quite a few of my assists, too, because it made them pick and choose exactly what they wanted to do.

"But when we're able to get stops on defense, that's where I really thrive in the transition game, and I think (guard) Syd (Affolter) runs the floor really well. (Forward) Hannah (Stuelke) runs the floor really well. Those are tough passes to catch and handle and finish more than anything. I'm just proud of them. You don't get an assist if your teammate doesn't make the basket."

Clark's teammates made plenty of baskets against the Buffaloes.

Affolter was the most prolific, shooting 6-for-6 from the floor and finishing with 15 points. Guard Gabbie Marshall was 4-of-5 from 3-point range and scored 14 points, and Clark's roommate, Kate Martin, also had 14 points on 2-of-4 shooting from the perimeter.

Stuelke was the final Hawkeye in double figures, scoring 11 points and pulling down 10 rebounds.

Iowa shot 53.8% (35-of-65) and was 9-of-22 from long distance.

Clark's game only could be considered remotely quiet because of her lofty standards. Despite her struggles beyond the arc, she scored a game-high 29 points and added six rebounds.

"She can shoot it from anywhere on the floor," Colorado guard Jaylyn Sherrod said. "It's kind of like pick your poison almost. But she had 29, so that's two less than her average."

"Man, we locked her up," forward Quay Miller deadpanned at the podium beside her teammate.

Clark's brilliance has become almost routine for her teammates.

Her court vision is just as unique a gift as her shooting touch, and it's among the many reasons the Indiana Fever will select her with the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft on April 15.

When the rest of her teammates are locked in the way they were Saturday, Clark's vision and anticipation become lethal.

"I think she does a great job of finding her teammates, finding who's open, reading the defense before the defense even does what they're going to do," Marshall said. "I think that truly speaks to what we try to do. We pass up good shots for great shots. We really pride ourselves on our assists.

"We are kind of just hard to guard because you have to pick and choose. If you're going to stay out on Hannah, the shooters are going to be wide open. And I think that's kind of what you saw (Saturday) is just a complete basketball game."

Iowa's next challenge figures to be far greater.

A prime-time rematch awaits against defending national champion LSU on Monday.

The third-seeded Tigers (31-5) advanced with a 78-69 win against second-seeded UCLA (27-7) in Saturday's opening game.

LSU scored a decisive 102-85 victory against the Hawkeyes in last year's national championship game, which drew a record television audience for women's basketball.

"I think everybody is pretty excited for it," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "Twelve million people tuned in last year to see this game, might be the same this time. Who knows? I know that these are two really good basketball teams, and it's almost unfortunate they're meeting this early.

"But everybody that's left (in the NCAA Tournament) now is really good. LSU is certainly that. Again, I haven't looked at our scout yet. I haven't gotten ready for that. But I just know it's going to be highly emotional and highly competitive."