COLLEGE PARK, Md. – They came from Maryland, Washington, D.C., and neighboring states like Virginia and Pennsylvania, but also states at least as far away as North Carolina, Georgia and, of course, Iowa.
They were lined up outside Xfinity Center on the campus of the University of Maryland up to three hours before Saturday’s opening tipoff, many of them wearing Iowa black and yellow, a number of girls wearing No. 22 Hawkeyes jerseys.
As always, Caitlin Clark didn’t disappoint them, powering home 38 points in front of a sellout crowd of 17,950 as she continued to sail toward Kelsey Plum’s women’s scoring record (3,527), set in 2017, as No. 4 Iowa beat Maryland 93-85.
Clark, the Hawkeyes’ 6-foot senior point guard, now has 3,462 career points, 66 from becoming the all-time scoring leader in women’s NCAA basketball. The men’s scoring record, set by Pete Maravich in 1970 (3,667 points), remains within reach. The record chase continues Thursday in Iowa City against Penn State.
Early and late in the game, the Maryland side of the Xfinity Center crowd booed Clark when she got the ball but then saw firsthand how the nation’s most exhilarating player can quickly change the momentum for Iowa (21-2, 10-1 Big Ten). She does it with her scoring, of course – she hit three 3-pointers in a flash in the first quarter to quell an early Maryland run – but also by whipping or bouncing passes to teammates all over the court for their own scores.
Clark, who entered the game leading the nation in scoring (32.1 ppg) and assists (7.7 apg), finished with a season-high 12 assists as Maryland players did their best to front and swarm her, leaving Clark’s teammates open for layups and some big 3s of their own.
“I take it in everywhere I go and I think I’m just very grateful and obviously it’s changed my life in some ways more than others, just being aware of my surroundings and stuff like that, but people spend a lot of time, money and resources to come see us play,” Clark says. “Whenever I step on the court, I just want to have a lot of fun and I’ve been able to find a lot of joy and calmness in that. I don’t get nervous for these games, honestly. It is what it is, it’s basketball.
“One game is not gonna make or break our season and I just find a calming presence in like, being around my teammates and having fun playing this game.”
Iowa fans waiting outside before the arena opened its doors broke into “Let’s Go Hawks!” chants that continued throughout the game, including while Maryland players were introduced.
Clark hit a step-back 3 from the left wing. But she traveled on the ensuing possession, which uplifted the Maryland fans. Then the Terrapins roared ahead 11-3, their players flying off the bench to greet Shyanne Sellers after her jumper before a timeout during the sequence.
By the end of the quarter, though, Clark had three more 3s, including two more step-backs and one of her “logo 3s” from deep on the left wing. The show was on.
“Shootin’-from-the-logo 3, that’s not just luck,” Dickson Jensen, Clark’s former AAU coach for the All Iowa Attack, told USA TODAY Sports ahead of the game. “I mean, she shoots hundreds of those, hundreds, every day, and has for 6-7 years. I don’t care if you’re 6-6 or not. It doesn’t matter when (she’s) shooting from out here.”
Iowa plays at a fast pace and always had an answer for Maryland’s runs, whether it be a Clark buzzer-beating 3 to end the first quarter or driving layup to close the second.
“That game felt like March,” said Maryland coach Brenda Frese, whose team fell to 12-10 (4-7 Big Ten) while faced with one of the toughest strengths of schedule in the country.
Clark finished 7 of 17 from 3-point range. But something else happened, too, an aspect of her game that makes her especially deadly and Iowa look unbeatable at times. From the start of the game, she was shooting passes around – short, medium and long – and finding open teammates, even if they didn’t convert on baskets.
They eventually did, and Clark finding teammates for backdoor cuts helped end a Maryland run that erased an 18-point deficit in the third quarter. After back and forth play, the score was tied 76-76 with 6:17 left in the fourth.
At that point, Clark hit another big 3 then found teammate Sydney Affolter underneath from the top of the key and later for a 3-pointer that helped seal the game.
“I thought we did a really good job of backdoor-cutting tonight and looking for scores around the rim,” Clark said. “We know Maryland plays out, they’re in passing lanes, so look to go backdoor and people are ready to finish the ball.”
Two other Iowa scorers (Molly Davis, 17; Kate Martin, 15) finished in double figures. Meanwhile, Clark’s passes came with one and two hands, her drives from the right and left. She delivered for everyone who came out.
“All last season, we had 10,000-plus at home, and then we go on the magical run (to the women’s NCAA title game) that we go on and we’re playing in front of sold-out crowds every single step of the way,” Clark says. “Yeah, it’s changed whether we are on the road or at home, there’s always huge crowds, but I think our team has just become just used to it. I mean, that’s the biggest thing, is like nobody shies away from these moments, whether you’re coming off the bench or you’re in the starting five, it’s just what you’re used to at this point and you don’t have much say in it, so you better embrace it.”
“And really, more than anything, it’s really good for women’s basketball so just enjoy every single moment.”
She walked off the court to cheers and her arms raised in appreciation.
Before it began, one fan lining up outside quipped out loud that half of Iowa was there. Another, Erin Pryce of Baltimore, admitted she bought season tickets just to go to this game.
“We’re bandwagon,” she said.
So is a large slice of America as Clark moves perhaps a couple games from the women’s scoring record.
First appeared on www.usatoday.com