That felt like the March Madness we know and crave. Upsets are fantastic, certainly, and Iowa beating South Carolina was an upset, but only because of the Gamecocks’ perfect 36-0 record and 42-game winning streak overall. This wasn’t David beating Goliath. It was LeBron James taking Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Co. to the finals only if Cleveland had beaten San Antonio instead of Detroit to get there.
Caitlin Clark is not to be fucked with, but she’s also not an underdog. Sometimes, the team with the biggest alpha wins, and Clark was the apex predator Friday night. The Hawkeyes have work left (LSU is going to pose a lot of the same problems that South Carolina did), but I needed an analogy with an appropriate level of hyperbole, and I don’t think I’m wrong with the Clark-LeBron comparison (performance wise), or the South Carolina-San Antonio similarities.
Clark finished with 41 points, eight assists, and six boards. It was her second-straight game of 40-plus, and she scored or assisted on every bucket in the fourth quarter, and on about 75 percent of her team’s field goals overall. The women’s player of the year has been compared to Diana Taurasi, and that’s a perfectly apt comparison. However, Taurasi was the leader of a South Carolina-type juggernaut at UConn and never had to do (at least collegiately) what was required of Clark.
This Iowa team isn’t even a one-seed, and as good as Clark’s supporting cast played, nobody took more than eight shots. You couldn’t blame them though as the only player capable of holding her own against the intimidating Gamecock defense was the best player in the damn game.
South Carolina didn’t play poorly, they just got beat
Iowa definitely got some help from the zebras, who weren’t exactly whistle-happy but still tagged Aliyah Boston with two quick fouls that led to substantial time on the bench in the first half. Clark also picked up a couple of early fouls, but coach Lisa Bluder stuck with her star and was rewarded with smart, selective defense and a one-point lead at the break.
Dawn Staley didn’t have to gamble with her best option, and the rest for Boston worked out as SC outscored the Hawkeyes, 24-16, in the second quarter with the help of Zia Cooke and a relentless attack on the offensive glass. The Gamecock front line big-sistered Iowa on the glass all night, resulting in a 49-25 rebounding advantage. The only issue with Staley on Friday was a lack of adjustments regarding some perimeter players that Iowa was begging to shoot. To be fair, I’m not sure what she was supposed to do other than stick with the ladies who got her there. I’m merely stating that Clark was 10 to 15 feet off shooters at times, and you can’t let her just conserve energy for the offensive end. Regardless, South Carolina’s 4-of-20 outing from deep wasn’t much worse than Iowa’s 7-of-23.
It was just one of those games against one of those players that was not meant to be, and it happened at the worst possible moment on the biggest possible stage with a shitload at stake. This loss is going to sting for as long as the night will be remembered for Clark’s heroics, and it’ll hurt even more if Iowa doesn’t finish the job.
Kim Mulkey’s closet and the Bayou Barbie are the perfect foils for Iowa’s crazy run through this tournament, and I don’t want to hear a single fucking word about the quality of this March Madness. If you’re disappointed, you’ve been watching the wrong tournament.
The star attraction is Caitlin Clark, and hopefully, she has one more brilliant performance left in her.