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Clark fitting in, filling up stat sheets and opening eyes for Iowa

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark (22) makes a basket while being fouled during the first quarter of their game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, IA on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)
Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark (22) makes a basket while being fouled during the first quarter of their game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, IA on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)

The second Caitlin Clark gets the ball in her hands and starts tearing down the court, anything can happen.

She might make a pass to start a play. Or, if a lane is wide open, she won’t hesitate to drive to the rack and drop it in, no matter who is defending the basket. Just as easily, Clark may stop and launch a long three-pointer, which falls much of the time. In other instances, the 6-foot guard may find an open teammate and bullet-pass the ball into her hands, which ends up counting as an assist after it swishes the net.

That Clark is comfortable enough, and successful enough, to make all of these scoring scenarios happen in every game for the Iowa Hawkeyes has put her in the conversation for freshman of the year. She is a stat sheet stuffer who is already running her team like a seasoned pro.

“She not only leads our team in scoring, but she leads the Big Ten in assists,” coach Lisa Bluder said. “She’s one of our best free throw shooters. She’s our second-best rebounder as the point guard. She’s really contributed in a lot of ways.”

Clark’s statistics are eye-popping. Her scoring is fourth-best in Division I, at an average 25.9 points per game. She’s racked up a Big Ten-best 414 points and has scored 30 or more in six games – the most for a conference player this season. Her career high is 37 points, which she posted last month.

The points just keep coming, too. Clark is one of those players that create their own game flow, and it will seem like one minute she’ll have eight points, and then mere moments later, that number will be 26. She is a threat anywhere on the floor because of her shooting range and her passing ability, so she draws a lot of attention from the defense.

At 6.4 assists per outing, Clark ranks tenth in the country in that category. She has been named Big Ten freshman of the week nine times, which ties the conference record.

But almost more than Clark’s statistical assault in her collegiate debut, her astonishing level of confidence on the court is exceptional. She moves quickly, with no hesitation, sizing up the floor and making the right decisions. There is no pause in her step, no uncertainty on her face as she moves. She just attacks.

Bluder saw it when she was recruiting Clark, as a member of a national title-winning Iowa club basketball team.

“She had been playing with older girls for a long time for the Iowa Attack, and you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to see she was going to be a great player,” Bluder said. “She just carried herself in a different way, had great size and great court awareness, and had a bit of a swag to her.”

Even so, Clark’s instant adjustment to the college game has stood out.

“Her wanting the ball in her hands and wanting to control the game so much is remarkable to me as a freshman, because usually freshmen wait their turn a little bit,” Bluder said. “But that wasn’t the case with her.”

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark (22) passes the ball to forward/center Monika Czinano (25) for an assist before Czinano made a basket during the third quarter of their game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, IA on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)

Junior forward Monika Czinano, who is often the target for Clark’s assists, pointed to her teammate’s gold medals with USA Basketball’s U16 and U19 as a factor in her development.

“She has a lot of experience playing with good people and against good people. She’s played at a really high level, so that’s a factor,” Czinano said. “But she also has this level of confidence in herself and believes in herself. That has allowed her to go into a program and not have to take that breath that most freshman do, and get adjusted.”

The seeds of Clark’s self-assuredness were planted early in grade school in West Des Moines, when the self-described “loud, outgoing” kid first picked up a basketball. She played with boys on the team her father coached until sixth grade, when she joined Iowa Attack. Her dad taught her to be a multi-dimensional player. When she did step into girl’s games occasionally, Clark isn’t shy in saying she “just kind of demolished them.”

As part of a large family with male cousins, she learned how to compete at an early age.

“Family events were pretty wild. I’d just get picked on all the time,” Clark said. “They would pick on me. They never took it easy on me and I would just cry all the time. I was so competitive. I hate losing and I hate being left out of things. But that made me who I am today.”

Clark, who spent her elementary years involved in several sports, played soccer until her sophomore year in high school, when she gave it up to focus solely on basketball.

Playing for the U.S. at the FIBA games taught Clark a lot, and revealed what was necessary to succeed in the sport she loved.

“That was my first real taste of success, in a way, and recognition,” she said. “It also showed me how many good players there are in America, and that I’ve got to work hard.”

She found herself on a U19 squad that included standouts Naz Hillmon from Michigan and Rhyne Howard from Kentucky. Their coach was Louisville’s Jeff Walz.

“It was really cool to talk to them about the college game, and that almost put me a step ahead in a way,” Clark said. “And coach Walz, he wasn’t easy on us.”

Clark isn’t easy on her opponents, either. She plays with an edge and an intensity that makes an instant impression.

“On the floor she’s one of those kids you love to have on your team, but you hate to play against her,” Bluder said. “She’s clapping, in your face a little bit.”

Czinano said Clark’s playing temperament is a team motivator.

“She always has that fiery spirit on and off the court. I would hate to play against her I’m glad we’re here teammates,” Czinano said. “On the court she definitely takes it very seriously. She knows her stuff.”

Clark said her on-court demeanor is part of her game.

“I definitely don’t think my opponents like me, but at the same time, I don’t need them to like me,” she said. “I’m competitive I’ve got some fire in me. Sometimes I go to one of my teammates and tell them, ‘if something happens, you’ve got to pull me out!’”

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark (22) brings the ball down the court during the third quarter of their game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, IA on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)

But that is where it ends for Clark. Ultimately, despite her fierceness in play, she realizes basketball is a game.

“It’s all fun,” she said. “I’m just competitive. I just want to win, and it’s nothing personal.”

Clark’s ability to keep the sport in perspective, to mix it up on court and then shift gears after the final buzzer, is distinctive.

“I think you’ve got to have fun; it can’t be serious all the time,” she said. “And I think I’m really good at flipping that switch. When we start film for practice I’m dialed in for film. When we start practice, I’m dialed in for that. And I don’t think everybody can have that.”

Bluder said Clark’s off-basketball persona conflicts sharply with her playing mentality.

“She is hilarious, she does not take herself too seriously,” Bluder said. “She is one you can tease and she can take it, and she enjoys that. She’s very personable off the court.”

Czinano said Clark the person is a breath of fresh air to her teammates.

“She’s a goofball, like a little sister,” Czinano said. “She’s funny, says dumb stuff. Sometimes you’re like, ‘did she really just say that?’ She brings a lightheartedness to the team.”

By mutual agreement, Clark came to Iowa City with a lot of expectations. Starting senior point guard Kathleen Doyle would soon graduate, and Bluder needed someone to fill that spot.

“We told her that this was going to be her role,” Bluder said. “I usually don’t tell that to kids when I’m recruiting, that they’re going to step right in, but with her we had a need, and she wanted that.”

In watching Clark play since seventh grade, Bluder knew she could handle the job.

“She’s not a kid who’s intimidated by anything or anyone. One of the reasons she’s good is that she’s not in awe of anything or anyone, and that adds to her ability to play right away,” Bluder said.

Clark had plenty of offers. In the end it was down to Iowa, Iowa State and Notre Dame. She chose the Hawkeyes because she wanted to make a difference right away.

“I wanted to impact the team I was going to right away, and with Kathleen Doyle leaving to go to the (WNBA), I thought this was a perfect spot for me to slide in and take over the point guard spot,” she said. “And that’s what coach Bluder reiterated to me all through my recruitment. Then on my visits, the girls and the coaches – it felt right; it felt like where I needed to be.”

Having her relatives just over an hour away was also a big factor in her decision.

“My family is really close so that’s a big one for me being able to go home on the weekends, and having them at all my home games,” Clark said. “They haven’t missed one yet, and I don’t think they will.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Clark didn’t have the typical summer practice sessions that start breeding familiarity and camaraderie. But she has fit in, and the veterans and newcomers are learning to work together as a unit.

“It takes a little bit to figure it out with a new point guard,” Czinano said. “She’s different than Kathleen.”

Clark and Czinano have developed a nice synergy and feel for the other on court.

“She has a really high basketball IQ. She knows where people are going to go,” Czinano said. “Sometimes she knows where I’m going to be before I know where I’m going to be. Sometimes in transition, I swear she’s throwing the ball and I don’t know I’m going to get there.”

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark (22) drives to the basket and scores during the fourth quarter of their game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, IA on Sunday, February 7, 2021. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)

The team, however, is still working on building chemistry as a whole. Iowa has had six losses, and all but two have been close. Their aim is for daily improvement.

“Our goal as a team is chip away; get a little bit better every game,” Czinano said. “Our coaches talk about chipping away, and eventually it’ll crack.”

Clark embraces that philosophy, with the big picture in mind.

“The reason I came here is to take them somewhere they haven’t been,” she said. “They’ve been to the Final Four before, but that’s when Vivian Stringer was the coach. They went to the Elite 8 in 2019, and if COVID didn’t happen last year, they would have gone somewhere.”

“We’ve got the talent, and we’ve got talent coming in. We’re improving, playing together as a team, and putting the pieces together. It’ll take time.”

Clark also takes that pledge personally, and is always striving to improve.

“I want to watch film. I want to know what I did wrong, because I still have so many areas to improve on,” she said. “Even what I’m good at, I can improve that too. (Coaches and teammates) don’t take it easy on me, and I don’t want them to. I really like that our coaches don’t give me a free pass. They’re going to let me know when I’m wrong.”

Czinano said their coaches handle Clark’s player development, and she and her teammates handle the rest, as they take time to teach her about what she characterizes as their strong team culture.

“She has all the skills in the world, and to watch her keep honing them and get more deadly with them is really cool,” Czinano said. “Were trying to make her, as upperclassmen, the best teammate and best player that she can be, and those go hand in hand.”

Clark appreciates all of the assistance.

“They’ve taken me under their wings, they’re always teaching me, and they’re not afraid to correct me, either,” she said. “They know I’m still learning, that I need help and that I don’t know everything, and I’m open with them, as well. If I have a question, I’ll ask them. They want the best for me.”

As her performances continue to stand out, Clark has been getting more attention. This past week she was named to the watch lists for the Dawn Staley Award and the Naismith Trophy.

Bluder said the best is yet to come for the budding star.

“I’m really glad we have three and a half more years with her, because I think she can be even better,” Bluder said. “I think we’re just touching the surface of how good she can actually be. She’s not a finished product yet.”

NCAA Women’s Basketball Poll, Week 8

Louisville Athletics photo.

It was short-lived at number one for the Gamecocks, after falling at the hands of UConn in overtime last night. With only one loss to a very talented NC State team, Louisville rises to No. 1 overall, edging out the Stanford Cardinal. Connecticut rises to 3 this week and the Gamecocks fall to 4. Gary Blair’s Texas A&M Aggies round out the top five. UCLA drops to six this week, followed by Maryland at seven and NC State at eight. Arizona maintains its spot at number nine, and Baylor stays put at 10.

Despite being on pause, Michigan rises one spot to 11, Ohio State moves up to 12, and Oregon drops to 13 after losing to the Wildcats last night. The Lady Vols sit at 14 again this week, and Northwestern rises to 15. With a win over Iowa, Indiana leapfrogs South Florida and moves into No. 16 overall. South Florida comes in at 17, and Arkansas drops to 18. Red-hot West Virginia rises to 19, while the Kentucky Wildcats drop to 20.

After a lopsided loss to UConn, DePaul falls to 21, Gonzaga and Georgia sit at 22 and 23, respectively, and Mississippi State and South Dakota State go 24 and 25, edging out Missouri State. The Bears, Oklahoma State, Iowa, Texas, Alabama, Georgia Tech and Syracuse all received votes this week.

Top 25

  1. Louisville
  2. Stanford
  3. UConn
  4. South Carolina
  5. Texas A&M
  6. UCLA
  7. Maryland
  8. NC State
  9. Arizona
  10. Baylor
  11. Michigan
  12. Ohio State
  13. Oregon
  14. Tennessee
  15. Northwestern
  16. Indiana
  17. South Florida
  18. Arkansas
  19. West Virginia
  20. Kentucky
  21. DePaul
  22. Gonzaga
  23. Georgia
  24. Mississippi State
  25. South Dakota State

RV: Missouri State, Oklahoma State, Iowa, Texas, Alabama, Georgia Tech, Syracuse

Storm make free agency splash with veteran Dupree

Indiana Fever photo.

In what she called her first active exploration of free agency, 15-year veteran Candice Dupree wasn’t interested in any rebuilding efforts. It wasn’t about garnering a max contract, either.

“I’m just looking to go out with a bang,” she said.

Ultimately, the seven-time All-Star felt her best chance at another title was to join the reigning champs.

The Storm announced Dupree’s signing Monday, their first new addition in an already eventful offseason that has seen the team lose defensive stalwart Alysha Clark to the Mystics, and veteran forward Crystal Langhorne to retirement (and a new position in the front office). Terms of the deal were not disclosed. 

“Candice brings championship experience and has been an impact player in the WNBA during her entire career,” Storm CEO and General Manager Alisha Valavanis said in a release.

After spending the past four seasons as one of the few veterans on increasingly youthful Indiana Fever teams, Dupree joins an experienced Seattle roster that is anchored by 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart and two-time All-Star Jewell Loyd. Veteran Sue Bird is also expected back for another season, but her return has not been officially announced by the team. The franchise has exclusive negotiating rights with 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Natasha Howard as well, after designating her as a core player.

That supporting cast is a far cry from her teammates in Indiana, which had taken to calling their veteran leader “Mama Candice.” Monikers aside, her experience with the Fever did allow Dupree to develop a different part of her game.

“Playing with a younger group in Indiana definitely helped me come out of my shell,” she said, adding her time with Indiana forced her to be a more vocal leader on the court.

But with little help around her, the team won just 34 games over her four-year tenure, missing the playoffs each season. In the abridged 2020 campaign, Dupree averaged just over 12 points and nearly six rebounds a game, as the Fever limped to a 6-16 record in the “wubble.”

She enters a radically different situation in Seattle, where she’ll now be tasked with replacing some of the production lost with the departures of Clark and Langhorne, on a team with title aspirations.

“I’m looking forward to playing with a group of vets with a high basketball IQ and winners,” she said.

Dupree said she’s spoken with head coach Dan Hughes about her role, and expects to see the floor alongside second-year center Ezi Magbegor, providing some insight into how the team plans to approach its low-post rotation.

While Dupree’s addition fills a sizable need on the roster, Seattle still has several roster questions to address this offseason. Sharpshooter Sami Whitcomb remains a free agent, and Howard’s contract situation following the core designation is unresolved. Latvian guard Kitija Laksa is expected to come stateside after being taken with the 11th pick in last year’s draft, and the Storm will pick from that position again this spring.

Big things still poppin’

Upset:

North Carolina toppled No. 4 NC State, 76-69.

More results:

No. 1 Louisville hung on to outlast Notre Dame, 71-65. And it was Dana Evans in the clutch again that got the Cardinal over the hump.

No. 5 UCLA ran past Washington, 84-50.

No. 6 Stanford made work of Utah, 83-41.

No. 7 slipped past No. 16 Arkansas, 69-67, on a last-second layup. It was a repeat of their previous meeting.

No. 17 Indiana got their first win at Iowa since 1994, 85-72.

No. 20 DePaul held off Marquette, 87-82.

No. 22 Northwestern squeezed by Michigan State, 63-60.

In their return to the court for the first time in over a month, Rutgers dismantled Nebraska, 78-62.

Wake Forest downed Georgia Tech, 61-52, and snapped their seven-game winning streak.

Syracuse held on for a 71-67 win over Pitt.

Kansas got revenge on TCU, 82-72.

USC stopped WSU, 81-71.

All scores

Tomorrow’s game schedule

College team news:

South Carolina feels less pressure but more hunger to beat UConn tomorrow.

Iowa’s reserves stepped up today.

The issues for Kentucky are fixable, but there are plenty of them.

Iowa’s latest loss is like “a hole in the boat.”

UMass has paused all athletic activities.

George Washington is paused after a positive COVID test.

DII power rankings for the week.

College player news:

Indiana senior guard Jaelynn Penn has opted out of the rest of the season.

Sara Scalia’s resurgence is helping Minnesota get better.

College coach news:

Vivian Stringer press conference.

WNBA and USA Basketball news:

Diana Taurasi is back. Here’s why, and what it means for Phoenix fans.

Candace Parker is happy to be home but more happy to have a shot at a title.

The National Team wrapped up camp this morning.

Entire NCAA Tournament will be in San Antonio

The NCAA announced today that the entire NCAA Tournament will be in San Antonio.

Action will take place on five courts at six venues, from March 21-April 4.

Today’s results:

Upset: Washington State took down No. 5 UCLA, 67-63.

No. 3 UConn 87, Marquette 58

No. 6 Stanford 62, Colorado 54

No. 23 South Dakota State 64, South Dakota 45

Utah 62, Cal 51

USC 63, Washington 54

All scores

Tomorrow’s game schedule

College team news:

Inside Stanford’s nine-week road trip.

Arizona is focused on Oregon after a COVID scare and postponed games.

The No. 12 Ducks return to the court tomorrow to face UC Davis.

After a week off, the Gophers aren’t entirely healthy.

Three observations after Michigan State snapped a losing streak.

The Spartans are looking for a Robin to Nia Clouden’s Batman.

Siena has come too far to cancel the rest of the season.

Duquesne has postponed its game Sunday due to COVID concerns.

Southern Mississippi has postponed two games due to COVID issues.

College player news:

Lisa Leslie Award watch list.

Charlisse Leger-Walker is lifting WSU to new heights.

Daija Moses is leading Rider as their lone senior.

Dyaisha Fair shines bright for Buffalo.

Aaliyah Edwards is on board with coach Geno Auriemma’s plan.

Cal’s early enrollee, Mia Mastrov, lead the team in their loss tonight, in her debut.

Colorado’s Jaylyn Sherrod is out for the season after hip surgery.

College coach news:

Brenda Frese has made Maryland into a juggernaut.

North Texas has extended Jalie Mitchell’s contract through 2021-22.

WNBA news:

Tina Charles re-signed with the Mystics.

Washington acquired Erica McCall from Minnesota in exchange for a third-round draft pick.

Brionna Jones has signed a multi-year contract with the Sun.

Kia Vaughn will return to the Mercury.

Erica Wheeler is ready to join the Sparks.

Storylines of every stripe

Upset:

Ole Miss sunk No. 15 Kentucky, 72-60.

More results:

No. 1 Louisville 97, Boston College 68

No. 2 South Carolina 77, Auburn 58

No. 7 Texas A&M 54, LSU 41

No. 8 Baylor 83, Kansas 50

No. 10 Maryland 84, Wisconsin 48

No. 11 Ohio State 92, Iowa 87

No. 16 Arkansas 85, Missouri 80

No. 25 Georgia 83, Alabama 76 (OT)

Syracuse 85, Wake Forest 78

Georgia Tech 71, Clemson 69

Penn State 85, Nebraska 74

Florida State 61, North Carolina 51

All scores

Tomorrow’s game schedule

College team news:

No. 6 Stanford returns to home court this weekend for the first time in over two months.

West Virginia is cruising with nine straight wins.

Slow starts continue to plague Arizona State.

Oregon State has postponed this weekend’s games due to COVID issues.

Rutgers postponed their return to the court tonight in the wake of a positive COVID test.

Can the Scarlet Knights still get a good seed in the Tournament?

Villanova has paused activities due to COVID issues.

VCU has postponed games due to COVID issues.

Down to five available players, Siena has postponed the weekend’s games.

Canisius has canceled the remainder of its season.

College player news:

Katrina McClain Award watch list.

Elissa Cunane is putting up historical numbers.

California freshmen Daeja Holmes and Simone James are quickly making an impact at Georgia Southern.

Oregon State newcomer Talia van Oelhoffen is following in Jamie Weisner’s footsteps.

College coach news:

Brenda Frese notched Maryland career win 499 tonight, tying the program record.

FSU interim coach Brooke Wycoff is balancing parenting with the demands of her job.

Q&A with new Brown coach Monique LeBlanc.

WNBA news:

Mental health counseling did wonders for Brittney Griner.

Natalie Achonwa will bring the little things to the Lynx.

Erica Wheeler is excited for new beginnings with the Sparks.

Jasmine Thomas has re-signed with the Sun.

Tianna Hawkins has signed a multi-year deal with the Dream.

USA Basketball news:

The National Team opened camp today.

Photo gallery.

Veterans Sylvia Fowles and Nneka Ogwumike are excited to be back.

Midweek grind

Today’s results:

No. 3 UConn 94, St. John’s 62

No. 21 West Virginia 65, Iowa State 56

Texas 69, Oklahoma 58

Texas Tech 83, Kansas State 75 (OT)

Ball State 69, Central Michigan 66

All scores

Tomorrow’s game schedule

College team news:

North Carolina leads a community involvement initiative off the court.

Florida State went back to basics during an off week.

Arizona returns to the court this weekend.

Tennessee is pausing team activities after a positive COVID test and contact tracing.

Due to positive COVID tests, Bucknell has postponed games for two weeks.

Rice will miss a third weekend of games.

UNCW has postponed four games due to COVID.

South Carolina State has canceled the remainder of its season for the safety of student-athletes.

The DIII women’s basketball championship has been canceled.

College player news:

The NCAA’s starting five for the week.

The current Cheryl Miller Award watch list.

Bella Cravens is exceeding expectations at Nebraska.

Husker diary: Kate Cain.

Early enrollee Saylor Poffenbarger is settling in at UConn.

So is early enrollee Talia van Oelhoffen at Oregon State.

College coach news:

Brenda Frese is poised to tie Maryland’s wins record with 499.

Washington coach Jody Wynn’s letter to her younger self.

Meet Penn’s assistant coaches.

WNBA news:

Q&A with A’ja Wilson.

The Fever have signed Danielle Robinson.

Natalie Achonwa said the Lynx is the perfect fit.

How Kayla McBride plans to level up in Minnesota.

Candace Parker owned the Sparks from day one.

How Alysha Clark and the Mystics came together.

The league again earns high grades for diversity hiring.

USA Basketball news:

The U.S. has drawn Japan, Nigeria and France for Olympic preliminary round play.