Caitlin Clark’s encore season is off to a great start.
The Hawkeyes star and the reigning National Player of the year dropped 44 points and led No. 3 Iowa past No. 8 Virginia Tech 80-76 on Thursday night at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. It marked the ninth 40-point game of Clark’s career, which matches an NCAA Division I mark, men’s and women’s, over the past 25 seasons
She also had eight rebounds and six assists on the night in what was her fifth game with at least 40 points, five rebounds and five assists. The rest of Division I has just three of those games combined since Clark started at Iowa, per ESPN. She is just 16 points away from passing Megan Gustafson as the program’s all-time leading scorer.
The Hawkeyes jumped up early on a 13-4 run, seven points of which were Clark’s right off the bat. That trend was something that continued for the Hawkeyes throughout the game. They built up a double digit lead again in the third quarter, and then erupted on a 14-2 run early in the fourth quarter. But every time they did, the Hokies came storming back.
Virginia Tech closed the first quarter on a 14-2 run of their own, which Georgia Amoore ended with a wild half-court buzzer-beater from the logo.
Amoore had 11 of her team-high 31 points in the first quarter for Virginia Tech.
The Hawkeyes’ run in the fourth quarter looked like it would put the Hokies away, but Amoore hit a 3 with less than 90 seconds left in the game to cut the deficit to just four points once again. That, though, was as close as they got. The Hawkeyes fended off one last push, and forced one last rushed 3-point attempt from Amoore, to grab the four-point win.
Elizabeth Kitley added 16 points and 16 rebounds for Virginia Tech in the loss, and Carleigh Wenzel added 11 points off the bench. They were the only three Hokies who scored in double figures. Virginia Tech is fresh off a Final Four run itself, but it fell to LSU in the semifinals. The Tigers then rolled over Iowa in the national championship game in Dallas.
While Clark’s 44-point night was remarkable, neither she nor the Hawkeyes shot very well. Clark finished the night shooting 13-of-31 from the field and 5-of-16 from the 3-point line. She also made 13-of-17 free throws and drew 16 fouls. By comparison, Virginia Tech drew 18 fouls as a team. Clark finished just two points shy of matching her career-high, and Virginia Tech, which had one of the best defenses in the country last season, couldn’t seem to stop her.
Though Clark dominated for the Hawkeyes, the rest of the team struggled a bit offensively — which Clark acknowledged after the game. Hannah Stuelke added 12 points and four rebounds, and Kate Martin finished with 10 points. They were the only three to hit double figures, and guard Gabbie Marshall was held scoreless after going 0-of-6 from behind the arc. Clark accounted for all but one of Iowa’s 3-pointers, and the team missed 13 straight to close out the first half.
“We’re a team that, we’ll shoot the ball better. That’s not really like us,” Clark said, via The Associated Press’ Steve Reed. “I thought we had a lot of really good looks, a lot of mine felt like they were going in, Gabbie [Marshall] said the same thing. You just continue to shoot them.”
Iowa will take on Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls next on Sunday before hosting Kansas State next week. Virginia Tech, now 1-1 on the season, will host Houston Christian next on Thursday.
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