Iowa women's basketball reaches first Final Four since 1993 with Elite Eight win over Louisville
SEATTLE — Given all the grueling minutes Iowa women’s basketball endured to reach this pinnacle point, the Hawkeyes still hadn’t put its most potent product on an NCAA Tournament floor. Sunday night in Seattle offered the perfect setting for a riveting showing.
For all that was on the line inside Climate Pledge Arena, the Hawkeyes were hardly overwhelmed by the moment. Instead, they owned it.
Buoyed by another unbelievable performance from program pillar Caitlin Clark, No. 2 seed Iowa is off to its first Final Four since 1993 with Sunday’s 97-83 Elite Eight win over No. 5 Louisville. The vision this homegrown product came to Iowa City to deliver has been manifested — and Clark made sure to leave no doubt.
She finished with a staggering 41 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds in the biggest game of her life, constantly providing stability anytime Louisville made even the slightest push. It's the most points anyone has ever scored in an NCAA Tournament triple-double. After tense March Madness victories over No. 10 Georgia and No. 6 seed Colorado to reach this point, Iowa spent Sunday’s fourth quarter soaking up this program-altering accomplishment.
"It really hasn't sunk in yet, probably won't for awhile," Clark said. "But I mean, about the only people that believed were me and (coach Lisa Bluder) when I first committed to her and it was getting the locker room to believe and then everybody in the locker room believed and the rest is kind of history.
"But a lot of people told me it would never happen when I came to the University of Iowa. But (Bluder) believed in me and that was really all that mattered. And we made our locker room believe and when you dream and work really hard, a lot of really cool things can happen."
More:Leistikow: Caitlin Clark delivers historic triple-double to lead Iowa women to Final Four
More:What sports world is saying about Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark's historic Elite Eight game
Those who piled into Climate Pledge Arena looking for a Clark show didn’t have to wait long for the opening act.
The national player of the year favorite was nothing short of spectacular in pulling Iowa out of an early 8-0 hole, weaving all around the Louisville defense with pristine quickness before hoisting up shots from spots only Clark has normalized.
The Iowa superstar scored or assisted on the Hawkeyes’ first 30 points, a stretch that spanned until 7:44 remained in the second quarter. Clark ultimately finished the half with an eye-popping 22 points and eight assists while drilling five 3-pointers — yet Iowa owned just a modest 48-43 lead.
An all-around effort play early in the third quarter kept Louisville from taking advantage of the manageable deficit. After Louisville climbed within one 45 seconds into the third, the Cardinals were seemingly set to get the ball back after a Kate Martin clank.
Yet there was McKenna Warnock along the baseline, knocking the ball loose and saving possession with a desperate pass to Gabbie Marshall. The Cincinnati sharpshooter canned a trey immediately after to put the Hawkeyes back up four. Louisville never got closer the rest of the way.
Still, Iowa needed another level of cushion to fully put this one away. It arrived just before the fourth quarter as the Hawkeyes ripped off an 11-0 run with Clark again at the controls. A 20-point lead allowed Iowa to coast to the finish line.
"They came out in a box and one," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said, "and, man, the kids just remembered exactly what to do against that box and one. It was perfect. Gabbie caught fire there. McKenna had some beautiful threes in the first half. Kate Martin had one. We have always believed we have a lot of great shooters, and you really can't do that junk against us because of that. So I think we proved that again."
While Clark poured in bucket after bucket, Iowa’s defense remained tough on Louisville standout Hailey Van Lith. The southpaw shooter finished with 27 points but needed 19 shots to get there. The defensive tandem of Martin and Marshall made every catch a contested one.
"We locked down on our defensive possessions," fifth-year senior Monika Czinano said. "We always talk about our defense leading into our offense, and it really felt like it was flowing right there, and it honestly just really felt like we finally really clicked playing Iowa basketball like we knew we could. It just really felt like everything was flowing and that's the point of a game that you're always trying to get to."
Now it’s on to Dallas and the Final Four, where the Hawkeyes will continue this magical journey Friday against South Carolina or Maryland. The Hawkeyes got there on the backs of a complete Elite Eight showing.
Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at email@example.com.