Moments after his team defeated Iowa to advance to its 15th consecutive Elite Eight, UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma walked to mid-court and pointed in the direction of Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark.
Auriemma then wiggled his finger to signal that he wanted Iowa’s freshman phenom to come over so that he could speak to her.
While TV cameras showed Clark and Auriemma sharing a laugh, viewers were left to wonder what the exchange entailed. It wasn’t until Clark’s postgame news conference that some of the details of that conversation became public.
Clark said that Auriemma told her that she was “crazy good” and that it was “kind of a shame that there had to be so much pressure” on her and UConn’s Paige Bueckers. Auriemma told Clark that she and Bueckers both appeared “antsy” in the first half of a Sweet 16 game billed as a showdown between women’s college basketball’s two top freshmen.
While Clark only tallied six points in the first half of UConn’s 92-72 victory, she appeared more comfortable trying to score against the Huskies’ array of long, athletic defenders after halftime. Clark finished with 21 points, albeit on 21 shots, capping a freshman season brilliant enough to draw the attention of even the legendary Auriemma.
“He told me, ‘What you have done for Iowa this season has really been special and you have a bright future,’” Clark said. “To hear him say that to me, that really meant something. To take the time to wave me down and talk to me, that obviously meant a lot to me and I’m very thankful.”
Between her long-range shooting, her deft passing and her creativity off the dribble, Clark has emerged as one of the most exciting young talents in women’s basketball. The former five-star recruit entered Saturday averaging nearly 27 points per game and shooting over 40 percent from behind the arc.
Maybe the only freshman better this season was Bueckers, the centerpiece of a UConn team that is once again at the forefront of the national title race. Bueckers fell just short of a triple-double on Saturday, finishing with 18 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists.
The difference in Saturday’s game was that UConn is by far the more complete team. Christyn Williams, a former No. 1 recruit in her own right, proved that, scoring a game-high 27 points and contributing to the defensive effort that held Clark below her season average.
“I told the team before the game, ‘In all these matchups of players that get all the hype, it usually comes down to somebody else and something else,’” Auriemma said. “I think our defense, as bad as it was at times, was really, really good when it had to be.”
Clark agreed with Auriemma’s assessment that the pregame hype affected her and Bueckers in the first half.
“I think we both could feel that pressure,” Clark said. “I took a few forced shots. But I think we both calmed down in the second half. Obviously it is a lot of pressure for two freshmen, but those are the games we want to play in, those are the moments we live for. We wouldn’t want it any other way.”
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