Iowa women's basketball star Caitlin Clark edges Aliyah Boston for Naismith Trophy

Dargan Southard
Des Moines Register

DALLAS — For two seasons, Caitlin Clark and Aliyah Boston have been intertwined in an intense supremacy battle atop women’s college basketball.

They’ll get their chance Friday to settle things on the court, but this debate extends beyond which player is better positioned for Final Four success. The successfully bruising style of Boston, the fearless range from Clark — their styles couldn’t clash more despite both piling up tons of accolades.

South Carolina’s star got the bulk of the love last season. This year, it’s Clark’s turn to shine brightest.

The Iowa superstar was named the women’s basketball Naismith Trophy winner Wednesday at a ceremony inside Dallas’ Reunion Tower, as part of this week’s Final Four festivities. The first of potentially several player of the year awards heading Clark’s way, this accomplishment further emphasizes the absurd production Iowa’s homegrown hero is delivering.

"The thing I've said all year," Clark said, "is I think this (award) came because I've had so much fun playing basketball this year. This has been the most fun I've had getting to compete, and I think the joy and passion I play with shows that. I'm at my best when I just go out on the court and have fun."

It became clear early that a party was forming atop the Reunion Tower, which sits more than 500 feet in the air. The entire Iowa team piled into the back of the room while more than a dozen TV cameras captured every moment of this special Iowa day.

Clark was in Minneapolis at the Final Four last season as a Naismith finalist, yet her team was absent after getting eliminated in the NCAA Tournament's second round. Clark didn't miss a chance to share this special honor with her squad.

"All of the stats and the things I do on the basketball court are not possible by myself," said Clark, who was named Associated Press player of the year on Thursday. "The assists, my teammates have to make baskets. My teammates get me open quite a bit. A lot of my teammates play really, really hard defense and don't always get credit.

"I can make a long list of things my teammates do to put me in position to win this award. More than anything, the thing I love about them most is they're my best friends. I know they have my back."

Comparing superstars: How Iowa's Caitlin Clark matches up against South Carolina's Aliyah Boston

Picking a place to start with Clark’s accolades is a bit overwhelming.

There are the figures that defy logic. We’ll start with 11 career triple-doubles, including five this season. Two of those came during Iowa’s biggest moments: the Big Ten Tournament title-game win over Ohio State (30 points, 17 assists, 10 rebounds) and the Elite Eight victory over Louisville (41 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds).

Eighteen times this season Clark has poured in 25-plus points, five-plus assists and five-plus rebounds — an NCAA record. She’s the only player in the country with more than 950 points, 300 assists, 240 rebounds and 45 steals this year. Clark is also the first player in Division I women’s basketball history with more than 900 points and 300 assists in the same campaign. It’s no surprise Clark ranks top-five nationally in at least 10 offensive categories.

Iowa's Caitlin Clark was named the 2023 Naismith Trophy winner on Wednesday, which goes to the best college women's basketball player in the nation.

While the awards have come in bunches — back-to-back Big Ten Player of the Year, unanimous first-team All-American, likely a third Dawn Staley Award for best college guard and more — the sport has been reluctant to peg Clark as its crown jewel.

Boston swept the player of the year awards last season while leading the Gamecocks to their second national title. That’s the area where Clark couldn’t match the South Carolina standout — dominant production while leading a deep NCAA Tournament run — until now.

With Iowa having reached its first Final Four since 1993 — the Hawkeyes will get top-seed South Carolina at approximately 8:30 p.m. Friday in Dallas — Clark now has the prestigious team success to pair with individual dominance. It’s debatable whether she should’ve needed it or not, but Clark lifting the Hawkeyes to a level not seen in 30 years only accentuates her value to the sport.

Naismith voters agreed this time around. The Hawkeyes now have the only two winners in Big Ten history. While the second one worked through a slew of interviews in the Reunion Tower event room, Iowa associate head coach Jan Jensen came around the corner with the first one on FaceTime.

Clark's face lit up as she realized who was checking in. All the way from Greece where she's finishing up another successful pro season, Megan Gustafson had to show love to her fellow Naismith recipient.

"I'm just trying to be like you!" Clark said.    

And now she is.

Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com.