April 14, 2024

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Kaitlyn Clark carries Iowa State over Angel Reese and LSU to the Final Four in an epic battle between last year's finalists

Kaitlyn Clark carries Iowa State over Angel Reese and LSU to the Final Four in an epic battle between last year's finalists

In a game billed as a battle between college basketball's biggest stars, Iowa State's Kaitlyn Clark shined.

Clark scored 41 points to lift the top-seeded Hawkeyes over defending champion LSU 94-87 in a rematch of the 2023 NCAA Tournament. Iowa State (33-4) advances to the Final Four for the second straight year and gets a measure of revenge on the team that knocked off the Hawkeyes in title match last year.

For the second year in a row, Clark scored more than 40 points to seal the Hawkeyes' Elite Eight win. Last year, she scored 41 points to beat Louisville. This year, it achieved the same total. Additionally, Clark tied an NCAA Tournament record with nine 3-pointers and broke up a 45-45 lead at halftime with four 3-pointers in the third quarter.

“This probably feels a little better considering it's my senior year,” Clark told ESPN's Holly Rowe after the game.

Clark's play overshadowed the impressive, tenacious performance of LSU star Angel Reese, who scored 17 points and grabbed 20 rebounds before fouling out late in the fourth quarter. Flawjay Johnson added 23 points to lead the Tigers (31-6).

In the win, Clark broke the all-time NCAA women's record for 3-pointers made (540) in a career, passing Oklahoma's Taylor Robertson (537). This was the 20th game in which Clark recorded 30+ points and 10+ assists in her career. Clark also has three 40-point double-doubles in the NCAA Tournament (Elite Eight, 2023; National Semifinal, 2023; Elite Eight, 2024).

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Iowa State is seeking its first title and will face the winner of No. 1 USC and No. 3 UConn in the Final Four on April 5.

What does this mean for Iowa?

As great as the Hawkeyes' national semifinal win over South Carolina was last year, this victory was even bigger. The loss to LSU in the title game lasted an entire year. It was as painful a moment for the post-match taunts as it was for the defeat on the pitch.

This was the third time in the past five years that the Hawkeyes and coach Lisa Bluder had met a team coached by Kim Mulkey with their season on the line. The previous two games — in 2019 against Baylor and last year against LSU — turned into blowout losses. This time, Iowa won.

Bluder, the winningest coach in Big Ten history, now has her second team qualifying for the Final Four, an important milestone in her legacy. As for Clarke's legacy, she has made a strong case as the game's greatest player.

What this means for LSU

The third-seeded Tigers faced a challenge in the NCAA Tournament, starting with two tough games at home. Then after beating UCLA in the Sweet 16, LSU seemed to build momentum toward this high-profile matchup. The first half went in favor of the Tigers, giving them an eight-point lead.

But then Angel Reyes suffered an ankle injury that knocked her out of the match and changed the momentum of the match. Reese still struggled for most of the match before fouling out, but it was clear the injury was taking its toll.

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Repeat champions are hard to come by, and in a year that has had its fair share of distractions, LSU is still competing at a high level. The biggest question remaining is whether Reese will declare for the WNBA draft or decide to stay in Baton Rouge. No matter what happens, the Tigers will remain a contender under Mulkey.

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(Photo: Sarah Steer/Getty Images)