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Latest Elite 8 act cements Caitlin Clark’s legendary status with the Iowa Hawkeyes

Last week, I wrote that Iowa needed to advance to the program’s second all-time Final Four. Thanks to the Seattle 4 Region carnage, it was officially Final Four or bust.

No, this season wouldn’t suddenly have soured into a failure without a trip to Dallas. That would be unfair to what this squad had already accomplished and, frankly, it would be an insult to the unpredictability that is March Madness.

If you’re a hoops fan, you know this, but college basketball becomes like the old show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” in the NCAA Tournament. Zaniness is the norm and—just like any points Drew Carey might award—seedings oftentimes don’t matter.

Final Four trip or not, the Hawkeyes had already tracked down back-to-back Big Ten Tournament titles by demolishing an Ohio State team that’s playing for its own berth in the Final Four tonight against Virginia Tech.

The final against the Buckeyes in that conference tourney title game was 105-72 for anybody that might have missed it. Caitlin Clark erupted for 30 points, 17 assists and 10 rebounds to register the first-ever triple-double in the Big Ten Tournament title game.

She canned 5-of-11 3-pointers that afternoon inside the Target Center to propel the Hawkeyes to the championship-clinching rout. Caitlin’s presence, her ability and the belief she’s cultivated within the Iowa fan base transformed the arena into Carver North all week long.

Those types of feats and that type of reaction from both Iowa fans and opposing fans alike are ordinary when you’re watching Caitlin Clark.

Of course, basketball fans understand that what Clark does on a regular basis is anything but ordinary. It’s otherworldly. It’s abnormal in the most beautiful of ways.

Clark pulls up and bombs away with confidence from logos on the court that other players wouldn’t dare shoot from. From logos that other players are taught not to shoot from.

She led the nation in points per game last season after averaging 27 points per contest. Clark ranks third in that category this season, pouring in on average 27.3 points per night.

As observers marvel at her scoring prowess, her ability to distribute sometimes gets lost in translation. It shouldn’t. Clark led the country in assists per game last season, too. She’s going to lead the nation in that category again this year. Clark is averaging 8.6 assists per game.

She also grabs on average 7.2 rebounds and comes away with 1.5 steals per game. There’s really no part of Clark’s game that isn’t elite.

Back to the big picture here. You get the point. Iowa wasn’t leaving the 2022-23 season behind without a Big Ten Tournament trophy inside its Carver case and without moments along the way that wowed you. Individually, Caitlin Clark had probably already locked up the Naismith Trophy’s National Player of the Year Award.

So, this Clark-led Iowa team entered the NCAA Tournament with another No. 2 seed that matched last year’s seeding and with plenty of reasons to feel good about themselves. Many nationally actually felt the Hawkeyes were slighted the tourney field’s final No. 1 seed in favor of the Stanford Cardinal.

The idea that Iowa might have been slighted only became louder and more pronounced after Ole Miss sent the Cardinal packing for home much earlier than expected in a second-round stunner. Stanford’s loss combined with Duke and Texas getting upset only ramped up the pressure and expectations on Iowa. It was time for the Hawkeyes to end their 30-year Final Four drought. Only the Hawkeyes were left among the host seeds in the Seattle 4 Region.

A terrific player in her own right, Iowa star big Monika Czinano returned for a fifth season in Iowa City precisely to help author and anchor a tournament run that could send the Hawkeyes to Dallas.

The transfer portal combined with the allure of playing alongside Caitlin Clark means that Iowa might not have to wait very long for its next star duo. As long as Clark is around, it’s one of the country’s most attractive destinations heading into next season or beyond. But, at least for the moment, we’re living in the here and now.

And here’s what we know about right now.

Czinano averages 17.2 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. She’s absurdly efficient, averaging 68% shooting from the field. Even with whatever Iowa might add heading into next season, Clark and Czinano have played together for three seasons. In sports, that level of trust, understanding and cohesion sometimes can’t be duplicated.

Clark and Czinano are so great together that they’ve even got a catchy nickname. To Hawkeye fans, they’re the Law Firm.

That tandem’s greatness, the other top seeds getting eliminated en route to Seattle and Clark’s own individual star power all added up to one thing: This had to be the year.

Iowa couldn’t fail here. They were too good. The stars were aligning too closely into place. Decisions on futures had been made to set up this tourney dance. The Hawkeyes and the sports universe couldn’t allow it. After 23 seasons, a great head coach in Lisa Bluder was going to be rightfully rewarded.

Things didn’t start according to Iowa’s plan in its Elite Eight game against fifth-seeded Louisville, though. In a contest where Clark matched up against another one of the country’s best players in Hailey Van Lith, it was the Cards and Van Lith that struck first. Louisville jumped out swiftly to an 8-0 advantage behind a quick six points from Van Lith and it had all the early trappings of an Elite Eight upset and a story gone wrong for Iowa.

Then, the inevitable happened. Clark put a stop to the other outcome that Iowa fans couldn’t stomach to watch.

She single-handedly went on a 7-0 run. As soon as that first Clark 3-pointer fell through the bottom of the net, a breath of fresh air was restored for Iowa inside Climate Pledge Arena.

It wasn’t too long after that when Clark connected on a pair of 3-pointers to give the Hawkeyes their first lead of the night before the first quarter had even come to a close. Iowa never trailed again.

Before the night was over, Clark had done what no women’s or men’s college basketball player had ever done before. She went ahead and served up a 40-point triple-double.

Forty-one points. Twelve assists. Ten rebounds. In the biggest game of the season and on the biggest stage. The fact that the night started so poorly as a team for Iowa only makes Clark’s feat grander.

She rescued the Hawkeyes before their dreams of a second Final Four were anywhere close to being lost. Clark did it in remarkable fashion, too. It was a virtuoso Clark shooting display as she drained 8-of-14 3-pointers.

Imagine the kids watching inside Climate Pledge Arena last night. It’s the type of performance and memory that you romanticize for years to come. You don’t forget how you felt watching Clark work her magic.

That’s what the greatest players in their respective sports do. They deliver when there’s a bit of adversity on the biggest stages in the most unbelievable of ways. Those stages don’t faze them. The biggest and best stars embrace them.

Ultimately, that’s what this piece is about. Enter Caitlin Clark’s ongoing tale. With this Seattle 4 Region championship, she cemented her legacy as one of college basketball’s all-time greats. That was probably going to be the case regardless. But, in college basketball, Final Four berths are the equivalent of Super Bowl trips. The best players take and make them happen.

Just like Iowa needed and deserved this Final Four berth, Caitlin Clark needed this Final Four berth. She deserved this Final Four berth.

The idea of her college career ending without one just doesn’t make any sense. Here’s the good news for Hawkeye fans: Clark and Iowa were too good to ever allow that to happen.

As it should, Clark’s heroics caught the nation by storm. Here are just a few of their reactions to her historic performance.

Just believe!

The final seconds

Dickie V

Period

Really like that

Isaiah Thomas sounds off

TJ Hockenson showing love

Marcus Spears is impressed

Matt Leinart recognizes game

Best show in college basketball

Oh, hey, Dez

Most dominant

The first

1 of a kind

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Story originally appeared on Hawkeyes Wire