I can’t remember which stepback it was, and that’s the point. Caitlin Clark was locked in, ready to go, and in full control of her incomparable powers. There’s always been a feel, in every game she’s played this year, that she can do something special. Something unique. Something nobody else on the floor has in their repertoire. I’m not sure even her biggest fanatics cooked up college basketball’s (men’s or women’s) first-ever 40-point triple-double in their vision board. Heck, it was the first 30-point triple-double, too.
There was no answer for the nation’s best point guard in the Elite Eight against a competitive Louisville group that’d been to the Final Four a year prior. And while that’s been the case in most Iowa women’s games this year, this time was different. In part because of the stage. In part because of the pressure. And possibly, most of all, because of the attention.
Sunday night’s game tipped off at 9 pm ET on ESPN, a national programming event that didn’t run counter to a game on the men’s side. It was treated as a main event and Caitlin Clark delivered. Noticeably, that’s paying dividends in the form of country-wide dialogue cast far wider than women’s basketball’s usual suspects. It’s not just the basketball world talking about Caitlin Clark’s 41 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. The sports world is. And that’s from your most light-hearted follow to the dark sides of sports internet usually operating in bad faith.
It’s becoming clear that Clark’s game is transcendent. Part of what’s so electrifying about her skill-set is the translate-ability. The hesitation dribbles, no-look passes, and 30-foot flick-of-the-wrists make it feel like the Hawkeyes’ star is playing at the professional level already. She’s creating highlight plays each quarter, and making her teammates better in the process. You can’t go longer than a few minutes before seeing the percentage of Iowa points scored or assisted by Clark. Through a whole quarter in the Elite Eight, it was 100%.
I’d be remiss to not factor other reasons for why Clark’s star is shining so bright. For one, this has been the most upset-laden tournament in recent memory with a pair of No. 1 seeds out before Sweet 16. Second, the Hawkeyes game was preceded by Angel Reese’s LSU Tigers, a two-loss juggernaut that’s griddy’d and finger-licked their way to countless viral moments, all led by college hoops' most… complicated head coach Kim Mulkey and all of her feathery, gueen coats. And the biggest: a matchup looms against No. 1, undefeated South Carolina starred by the probable No. 1 WNBA draft pick (Clark is not yet eligible), Aliyah Boston. There’s a goliath team, and there are a number of stars-in-the-making vying to take their swing.
Clark’s playing at her best as women’s hoops is soaring in popularity. While the men’s side, fun in its own right, is spearheaded by a fleet of upset teams (no team higher than a No. 4 seed is in their Final Four), the women’s tourney has its giants in the spotlight. That's important not just for Iowa fans, but for fans of the women’s game as a whole. We’re well aware of the coverage disparities between men’s and women’s hoops, and Clark’s forcing content creators' and legacy media’s hands because she isn’t just a National Player of the Year favorite. She’s the sport’s most captivating presence.