What a turnaround for LSU.
In a game marked by sizzling offense and marred by foul controversy, LSU blitzed Iowa with a stunning offensive showing on Sunday for a 102-85 win to secure the NCAA championship. The LSU point total was the highest-ever in a women's basketball championship game.
Iowa star Caitlin Clark got off to a torrid star and finished the game with 30 points and a handful of her own NCAA records. But a second-quarter onslaught by Jasmine Carson and the LSU bench proved too much to overcome as the Tigers secured the program's first national title in Kim Mulkey's second year as head coach. The win marks a stunning turnaround for a program that finished 9-13 just two seasons ago. The national title is Mulkey's fourth as a head coach, with her previous three at Baylor.
Jasmine Carson, LSU bench swarm Iowa
Angel Reese secured Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors. She finished Sunday's game with 15 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists, following up a 24-point, 12-rebound effort in Friday's Final Four win over Virginia Tech.
But it was Carson who sparked Sunday's win with a 21-point first-half effort off the bench. She entered Sunday averaging 8.4 points per game. She tallied 11 points the entire tournament entering Sunday and was scoreless in her three previous games. She finished Sunday with a team-high 22 points while shooting 7 of 8 from the field and 5 of 6 from 3-point distance.
Her fifth and final 3-pointer bounced off the glass and in to cap a frantic second quarter at the buzzer. LSU went into halftime with a 59-42 lead.
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessWBB) April 2, 2023
Carson finished the first half shooting 7 of 7 from the field and her 21 points led all players at the break. LSU’s 59 halftime points were the most ever in a championship game.
"Most of the starters, they’ve got foul trouble," Carson told ESPN's Holly Rowe at halftime. "I’ve been working for this my whole life. It just feels great to finally display it on this stage."
She didn't hit another field goal. She didn't need to. The Tigers fended off a third-quarter Iowa rally then maintained control in the fourth as foul trouble and the LSU offense proved too much for the Hawkeyes to overcome.
Frequent fouls force both teams to adjust
Foul trouble dogged both teams throughout the game. Five LSU players picked up two fouls before halftime, including Reese, who was limited to nine first-half minutes. Three Iowa players had two or more, including Clark, who picked up her third on offense with 3:26 left in the second quarter. She finished the first half on the bench.
The foul issues set the table for LSU's bench to take over. Led by Carson's 21, LSU's bench outscored Iowa's 29-2 before halftime. But Iowa punched back in the third quarter.
LSU scored the first 4 points of the second half, but the Hawkeyes responded with a 15-2 run to cut their 21-point deficit to 65-57. Clark hit two 3-pointers during the run and broke Sheryl Swoopes’ single-tournament scoring record of 177 points along the way. Her seventh 3-pointer cut LSU’s lead to 69-60. But foul trouble caught up with Iowa again as the quarter ended.
With 1:03 remaining, Iowa’s best two players picked up their fourth fouls on the same possession. Monika Czinano was whistled for a defensive foul. Clark then picked up a technical foul for batting the ball out of bounds as Iowa entered its huddle. She didn't appear to say anything to officials.
Caitlin Clark picked up a technical foul for this.pic.twitter.com/Pk4ZJtiuja
— The Sporting News (@sportingnews) April 2, 2023
LSU finished the third with a 75-64 lead. Clark didn't stay on the bench for long. She returned to the court for the start of the fourth. Czinano returned moments later, but fouled out while setting a screen with 6:25 remaining.
Clark remained in the game, and her 30 points were a game-high. But LSU's advantage proved too much to overcome.
The Tigers shot 54.3% from the field and rebounded 14 of their 32 misses. A team that entered the game ranked 72nd in the nation with a 33.7% 3-point rate connected on 11 of 17 (64.7%) shots from behind the arc. Three players scored 20 or more points as Alexis Morris tallied 21 points and nine assists and LaDazhia Williams posted 20 points and 5 rebounds in addition to Carson's team-high tally.
They needed the outburst to overcome an Iowa team anchored by one of the game's all-time great offensive players. Clark was sensational at times. She pulled up for a deep 3-pointer to give Iowa an early 7-3 lead that prompted Mulkey to call LSU's first timeout just 86 seconds into the game.
— Iowa Women's Basketball (@IowaWBB) April 2, 2023
The 3 was her first of four in the first quarter that saw her tally 14 points. But LSU answered at every step. The Tigers countered Clark's early outburst with a balanced effort that saw six players score en route to a 27-22 first-quarter lead.
Clark scored just 2 points in the second quarter before finishing the final minutes on the bench in foul trouble. She regained her form quickly after halftime while hitting a pair of 3-pointers during Iowa's run to cut its deficit to 8 points. But the Hawkeyes never got closer than 7 points after halftime. LSU's offense was simply too strong.
Iowa shot 50% from the field and 46.7% (14 of 30) from 3-point distance, numbers that would generally signal a win. Just not against a historic LSU effort.
Czinano finished the game with 13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. A fifth-year senior, the four-time All-Big Ten player watched the rest of the game and her college career from the bench. Kate Martin added 13 points and 6 assists. Gabbie Marshall scored 12.
Clark added eight assists to her 30-point effort. She shot 9 of 22 from the field, including 8 of 19 from 3-point distance. Her eight 3-pointers are a championship game record as are her 32 in six games for a single NCAA tournament. But her historic National Player of the Year campaign comes up painfully short of the perfect ending. A junior who's not eligible for the 2023 WNBA Draft, she's expected to return to Iowa for another shot next season.
For LSU, the win signals the beginning of a new era with a championship that few saw coming.