Caitlin Clark embraces leadership role, history as Iowa prepares for Big Ten clash with Ohio State

Caitlin Clark is always in motion.

On the basketball court, she cuts hard, makes screens, passes to teammates and, of course, shoots long (sometimes buzzer-beater) three-point shots.

Her constant mobility is part of what makes her hard to defend.

“I never want to stop moving,” Clark said in an interview with LaChina Robinson, Zora Stephenson and Isis Young. “I think that's the best way and one of the hardest ways for people to guard me is I never want to stand still, and I think that's another way I've improved over the past few years.

"I take a lot of pride in that. I never want to get tired… I'm never calling for a sub, but I think that's my motor. I don't ever want to stop moving and I don't think that was always something I was great at early on in my career, but I don't really have an option anymore because people are chasing me everywhere, so I better keep moving to make it hard on them.”

Her progress on the court have created a movement off of it.

The Caitlin Clark effect is impossible to miss. This season, Clark has led the Hawkeyes to an 18-1 overall record, including an undefeated 7-0 mark in Big Ten play. The West Des Moines, Iowa native became Iowa’s all-time scoring leader in November, surpassing Megan Gustafson. This season, Clark also became the first Division-I player to record 3,000+ points, 900+ assists and 800+ rebounds. She is the 15th NCAA women’s basketball player to pass the 3,000 points mark in her career and just earlier this week against Wisconsin, Clark passed Brittney Griner for fourth on the NCAA women’s basketball all-time scoring leaderboard.

As Iowa prepares to take on No. 18 Ohio State this Sunday, January 21 at 12p.m., EST in a game that will be broadcast on both NBC and Peacock, Clark and the Hawkeyes look to extend their win streak to 16 games. More information on how to watch this matchup below.

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Sunday’s contest between the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes is the 76th meeting between the two teams. Iowa leads the all-time series, 38-37. The Hawkeyes have won the last two meetings against Ohio State. Last season, Iowa notched its highest-ranked win on the road in school history, besting then-No. 2 OSU, 83-72.

Clark knows that Iowa must be prepared for the press from the Buckeyes, who are entering Sunday’s game riding a four-game winning streak. Clark broke down how the Hawkeyes can stay on their toes vs. their Big Ten foes.

“I think we can find confidence in the fact that the last two times we've played Ohio State, we've handled the press well,” Clark said. "They want to force a lot of turnovers, that's where they get their easy points, that's where they go on runs, that's where they get you frazzled especially with a sold-out crowd behind them they're just going to have a little extra energy. But we've done a tremendous job the last two times we've played them breaking the press."

Clark thinks the key for her team is to not let Ohio State force them forward.

“You don't want them to let you force you to the baseline that's exactly what they're trying to do, Clark said. "And we're going to try to hit the middle as much as we can, and I think that's the biggest key for us and that's really what led to a lot of our success last two times we played them.”

RELATED: Caitlin Clark Record Tracker: Points, assists, rebounds and award milestones for Iowa superstar

Tracing Caitlin Clark’s growth at Iowa

While Caitlin Clark and Iowa are primed to enter the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio riding high off their current win streak, the start of the season came with adjustments. The team lost leaders in seniors Monika Czinano and McKenna Warnock so Clark adapted more of a leadership role.

"Being able to use my voice and be somebody those inexperienced players can rely on a little more, especially when I’m on the court with them,” Clark said. “They trust me and look to me to help them out. Building their confidence up, if they miss a shot, going up to them and saying ‘You’re shooting the next one.’"

Before this season, Iowa’s starting five had spent three years playing together. But Clark knows success as a team this season depends on instilling confidence in her teammates that have not yet played in big moments.

As she becomes a leader on the court, Clark continues to break records. She is currently pursuing the NCAA all-time scoring record, which is held by Kelsey Plum (3,527 points).

RELATED: Ohio State can make a statement vs. Iowa

“I think of all of them and honestly like it's hard to wrap my head around just being mentioned in the same sentence as those people,” Clark said.

Clark recalls when Pat Summit coached her last game as Tennessee’s coach in Des Moines, Iowa at the Wells Fargo Arena in an Elite Eight matchup featuring Baylor and Tennessee.

“I vividly remember going and watching Brittney Griner play with my dad and I think my brothers were there too but it's just crazy,” Clark said. “I was a young kid in the crowd and I was mesmerized not only by Baylor and what they were doing and what Brittney was doing but also by Tennessee. And now to be in the same company as some of those players is pretty tremendous.”

Caitlin Clark Beyond NCAA Women’s Basketball

As Clark continues to take the NCAA by storm, the WNBA looms ahead. Clark has already tried to improve her skillset for playing at the professional level. While she has become known for the special things she can do with a basketball, one of her big focuses is improving when the ball is not in her hands.

“Here, obviously the ball's in my hands a lot so I think getting comfortable coming off screens and having my feet ready,” Clark said. “I don't think that was always something I was very comfortable in early in my career here. I was always pretty good at like dribbling off of a pick-and-roll and shooting. But coming off screens, being able to get my feet set very fast and get the shot off, I think has added a whole other dynamic to my game and obviously you see that a lot in the W.”

RELATED: Iowa’s Caitlin Clark takes mindful approach to stardom

But Clark wouldn’t be who she is without her signature long three’s. She breaks down her love of the transition offense and how it helps fuels her wildest shots.

“I think the first thing I look at is obviously the defense,” Clark said. “If they look like they're a little lackadaisical or not coming up and guarding me as much on that possession. I try to act like I'm not into it as much and then I pull up all of a sudden and shoot it.”
Her buzzer-beater and long-range shots have not gone unnoticed by stars of the game. Clark sites longtime Seattle Storm player Sue Bird as one of her mentors. She recalls Bird sitting courtside at a game and going to dinner afterwards.

“It's just cool to get her perspective on everything and on whether I stay here or whether I go,” Clark said. "Obviously she wasn't influencing me one way or the other, she's just giving me different ways to look at my decision and she's one of the best players to ever touch a basketball so you kind of get a little star struck in a way…I think she's just super knowledgeable, but she also understands the side of it as like a human and your feelings and those type of decisions are hard too.”

Clark has attracted attention beyond the world of basketball too. A soccer lover who attends Iowa’s women’s soccer games, Clark cites Alex Morgan as one of her favorite players. Morgan is clearly a fan of Clark’s too, posting about her on Twitter after Clark sunk a game-winning shot against Michigan State.

But even as she draws attention from her heroes, Clark’s focus remains on the game at hand and making memories with her teammates.

“We go on the road and its always sold out,” Clark said. “I love those moments. Just soak that in and have fun and smile because these moments go really fast.”

Watch Clark's full interview with LaChina Robinson, Zora Stephenson and Isis Young at the top of this article and on the NBC Sports YouTube channel.

How to watch Iowa vs. Ohio State college basketball

  • Date: Sunday, January 21

  • Time: 12 p.m. ET

  • Location: Schottenstein Center (Columbus, Ohio)

  • Streaming: Peacock, NBC

  • Other CBB on Peacock on Sunday: Women’s matchup featuring Indiana Hoosiers vs. Purdue Boilermakers at 2 p.m. ET