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Clark leads Iowa back to Final Four

Apr. 1—ALBANY, N.Y. — Caitlin Clark is taking her traveling road show to Cleveland for the Final Four.

The Iowa superstar finished with 41 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds as the top-seeded Hawkeyes defeated third-seeded LSU 94-87 in the Albany Regional 2 final Monday at MVP Arena.

"I feel like it's amazing to be back in the Final Four," Clark said. "It's so hard to get there, especially with this region and how loaded this region was. We told ourselves we're the one seed for a reason.

"We've earned this. We deserve to be in these moments. We're prepared for these moments."

The most anticipated game of this year's NCAA Tournament mostly lived up to the hype.

The teams played to a 45-45 tie in the first half before Iowa pulled away in the third quarter behind a vintage performance from Clark.

Division I's all-time leading scorer dropped in 12 points during the period, with each of her four 3-pointers seemingly coming a little deeper than the previous attempt.

The Hawkeyes (33-4) built a 13-point lead on a jumper by Kate Martin with 3:01 left in the quarter and led 69-58 entering the final period.

"(T)he game is tied, we come out, Caitlin hits that deep three, and it gave us a lot of momentum," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "Then we get a stop and another score, and all of a sudden, they have to call time out after two minutes again. I think we started the game and we started the third quarter with a punch, and that really helped us a lot, gave us a lot of confidence on the defensive end."

LSU (31-6) scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to pull within six points but never got closer.

When star forward Angel Reese fouled out with 1:45 remaining, Iowa led 84-74 and the writing was on the wall.

Reese finished with 17 points and a game-high 20 rebounds in what could be her final college game. The 6-foot-3 junior is expected to soon make a decision to enter the WNBA Draft or return for her final season of eligibility.

"I think it's just great for the sport, just being able to be a part of history," Reese said of the battle with Iowa. "Like I said, no matter which way it went tonight, I know this was going to be a night for the ages, and just being able to be a part of history is great.

"Playing against another great player, of course, is always amazing, and our viewership (is) going up. And I'm sure so many different people watched us tonight. I'm happy to be here. I'm happy to keep raising women's sports, not just women's basketball but women's sports in general."

The game was a rematch of last year's national title game, won by the Tigers, and it looked early as though LSU might have the upper hand again.

Iowa started hot and led 15-6 less than four minutes in, but Reese — the MVP of last year's Final Four — led a frantic Tigers rally.

LSU took a 27-26 lead on a layup from Reese with 1:23 remaining in the quarter, part of a 10-0 run that gave the Tigers a 31-26 lead at the end of the period.

LSU led by eight after Hailey Van Lith opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer, but the Hawkeyes fought back to tie the game at 39-39 on a layup by Sydney Affolter with 2:34 left in the half.

The game remained tight until Clark made back-to-back 3-pointers to put Iowa ahead 58-49 with 7:30 left in the third quarter.

From there, it was all Hawkeyes.

"Caitlin is very skilled," Van Lith said. "She's a great player. She hit some tough shots. There's not a whole lot you can do about some of the threes she hit.

"I think the team around her that plays a role — they did a good job of executing their role. Ultimately, they played better than us, and that's what it was."

Clark finished with her 13th career 40-point game and third in the NCAA Tournament — the most ever. She also surpassed the records for career assists (140) and 3-pointers made (70) in March Madness.

She got plenty of help from roommate Kate Martin, who finished with 21 points and six rebounds, and junior guard Sydney Affolter, who had 16 points and five boards.

Iowa shot 13-of-31 from 3-point range, and Clark tied an NCAA Tournament single-game record with nine 3-pointers in 20 attempts.

"I think that just speaks to the confidence I have in myself and the time I've put in the gym," Clark said. "I know I'm ready for this moment. I thought my shot felt good in warmups, and it certainly helps when you make your first three as a shooter, when you can see the ball go in. I think I was two of my first three, and then I made my first to start the second half. And that certainly helped, too.

"I thought I got some good looks off the dribble, and I'm really comfortable shooting off the dribble. That's what I prefer rather than catch-and-shoot. It was nice to have a game where I got some good looks at three for sure."

Three Tigers joined Reese in double figures, led by sophomore guard Flau'jae Johnson with 23 points. She also had six rebounds and three blocks.

Freshman Mikaylah Williams added 18 points and seven rebounds for LSU, and junior Aneesah Morrow had a double-double 14 points and 14 boards.

The Tigers shot just 38.6% (34-of-88) overall and were 8-of-24 from 3-point range.

"Only one team finishes the season happy, and boy, we got to do that last year," LSU coach Kim Mulkey said. "Somebody will get to do it this year, but everybody else is going to come up here and be sad. You know, there's nothing wrong with being sad.

"If you're not sad, that means you didn't invest much. So those tears are tears of investment."

Iowa joins top-ranked South Carolina (36-0) and third-seeded North Carolina State (31-6) in the Final Four.

The Hawkeyes will play third-seeded Connecticut (33-5) and superstar Paige Bueckers in another attention-grabbing matchup Friday in the national semifinals.

"We never hung our head when things didn't go our way, and that can get you a long way," Clark said. "I'm just proud of this group to go back to the Final Four. You enjoy this, and then you get to Cleveland and you start prepping for your next game.

"We want to win two more, and I think we have the power to do that."