CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks could only shake his head when asked about trying to slow down Caitlin Clark, the college women’s basketball sensation from Iowa.
“I love my girls (on my team), but sometimes you’re playing checkers and she’s playing chess,” Brooks said. “She’s that good.”
Clark wasn’t just good on Thursday night, she was tremendous.
The Associated Press’ 2023 player of the year poured in 44 points and had eight rebounds to lead No. 3 Iowa to an 80-76 win over No. 8 Virginia Tech in a contest of Final Four teams from a year ago that exceeded expectations.
Clark went 13 of 31 from the field and had five 3’s. She got to the basket with relative ease, converting several one-handed scoop layups while finding her way to the foul line time and time again. She made 13 of 17 free throws, and anyone who attempted to guard her soon wound up with a seat on the bench next to Brooks in foul trouble.
She was, on almost every possession, uncoverable even as the Hokies knew she was getting the ball.
When she wasn’t scoring, Clark was making those around her better. She finished with six assists, but could have easily had 10 or more had teammates not repeatedly missed easy layups.
“She is a generational player and we are going to watch this young lady play for a very long time and she is going to play at a very high level,” Brooks said.
More than 15,000 spectators turned out on a weeknight in Charlotte, North Carolina, many coming just to see Clark play, which is not an uncommon phenomenon around the country. Wherever the Hawkeyes played last year, the host city would see a dramatic spike in attendance or more than 3,000 just to see Clark.
It was a largely Hokies’ crowd at the Spectrum Center, and at times there were boos for the officials from Tech fans who thought Clark was getting too many calls going her way.
But everyone got to see quite a show.
After the horn sounded, young kids wearing No. 22 Iowa jerseys flocked to arena tunnel to get her autograph as she left the floor. She signed for several minutes before being called into the locker room.
Clark called it an amazing atmosphere, not unlike a Final Four game — one that sure beats playing in front of cardboard cutouts and a few family members during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Its incredible, honestly,” Clark said of the attention. “It seems like there are a lot of people that are just fans of our game, whether it is Iowa fans or Virginia Tech fans or just people that are here to support women’s basketball. And that is why this game was put on is because they understand how great women’s basketball is and how much it is growing.”
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