The Final Four matchup everyone wants to see: Paige vs. Caitlin, UConn vs. Iowa

Apr. 4—CLEVELAND — The star power in this matchup is such that almost every question surrounds it.

What does UConn's Paige Bueckers think of Iowa's Caitlin Clark? What does Caitlin Clark think about Paige Bueckers? Why didn't UConn coach Geno Auriemma recruit Clark, anyway?

UConn, 33-5 overall and ranked 10th in the nation, and Iowa, 33-4 and ranked second, will meet in the Final Four beginning at 9:30 p.m. Friday night at 19,432-seat Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse (ESPN). Tickets for the high-profile matchup between the teams and their two rock stars are going on StubHub for a cool $1,200 each.

UConn's win over Southern California on Monday in the Sweet 16 featured Bueckers vs. USC freshman JuJu Watkins on the marquee. Now, we get Paige vs. Caitlin, although there will be 10 other players on the floor.

"I know Caitlin," Bueckers said. "Of course, we go way back. Midwestern, we had a lot of battles in AAU and stuff like that. We played together on Team USA.

"She's just a competitor. She wants to win. She has just intangibles of the game. She knows how to play, a great IQ. I think the biggest thing about her is she competes and she's just a winner, she wants to win at all costs. So I know going into that, it will be a great matchup. But I'm excited. It's great for the game and to be at this level, on this high of stakes, to see where we were in AAU competing against each other, it's just really cool to see."

UConn and Iowa faced off in the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16 in the bubble in San Antonio when Bueckers and Clark were freshmen. The two were named Co-Freshmen of the Year by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association.

Bueckers was the consensus national player of the year in 2021, the one they talked about, the top-ranked recruit in the high school Class of 2020 out of Hopkins, Minnesota. Clark was the No. 4 recruit nationally out of Dowling Catholic High School in Iowa.

Both are All-Americans, although Clark is the nation's all-time leading scorer (3,900) and the projected top pick overall in the upcoming WNBA Draft. Bueckers is averaging 22.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.4 blocks, a season in which she's making a comeback from a knee injury that kept her out for all of last season.

Bueckers is averaging 27.9 points and 8.7 rebounds in seven postseason games.

Anyway ... UConn defeated Iowa 92-72 in the Sweet 16 on March 27, 2021. Bueckers and fellow UConn freshman at the time, Aaliyah Edwards, had 18 points each, while Clark had 21 in the loss.

"Honestly, that game is super blurry," said Clark, who joins Bueckers in the belief that there's room enough for both stars to be equally luminous in the world of women's basketball. "It feels like forever ago.

"I was looking back and I saw some old footage of that game and we both look really, really young. It's cool to see how our careers have evolved and a lot of different players on both teams. But I don't know ... it's not Paige versus Caitlin and it takes the entire team to win a basketball game. Both of us are going to do everything we can."

Clark said she admires Bueckers' resilience, coming back from a torn ACL last season. While Clark has flourished, Bueckers was injured for the bulk of two seasons. It's why she will return to UConn next season instead of entering the WNBA Draft along with Clark.

"Obviously, she's been kind of dealt a tough hand and only has positive things to say about her teammates. And the way she carries herself on and off the court and the way she works hard, none of that has changed," Clark said of Bueckers.

"Since I've known her since she was in middle school, she's always worked that same way, always had that fire and been a leader."

UConn is operating with an eight-person roster, with six players suffering season-ending injuries, including another No. 1 high school recruit, Azzi Fudd, who played in just two games.

The Huskies were not favored to reach the Final Four, let's just say, with Auriemma calling it a miracle. Despite being in foul trouble, third-seeded UConn upset No. 1 USC 80-73 in the Elite Eight on Monday night in Portland, Oregon, clinching their unprecedented 23rd Final Four berth. UConn has won a record 11 national championships.

Iowa, meanwhile, coached by Lisa Bluder, played in the national championship game last year, falling to Louisiana State 102-85.

The Hawkeyes, who sold out every game this season, are looking to get back to that platform and avenged the loss to LSU in the Elite Eight on Monday in Albany, advancing to the Final Four with a 94-87 win. Clark had 41 points.

The other national semifinal between South Carolina and North Carolina State will be played at 7 p.m. Friday. The semifinal winners will meet at 3 p.m. Sunday for the title.

UConn's Auriemma joked immediately after UConn advanced that he hoped Clark had no vendetta against the Huskies that would lead her to have a prolific scoring game against them.

"I know there's nothing personal between me and her," he said. "I don't need to be seeing her drop 50 on us."