Caitlin Clark is a threat from anywhere, against anyone. Here are the numbers to prove it

During Caitlin Clark’s three-plus seasons at Iowa, she has frequently sprinted toward, and past, whatever is in front of her. Often, that means blowing by defenders en route to layups at the rim. Sometimes, she dashes around screens and away from opponents to create space for catch-and-shoot 3s. Since the start of the season, Clark has had her eye on chasing former Washington star Kelsey Plum’s NCAA women’s basketball scoring record of 3,527 points. “(She was) coming in ready to bust it down,” Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder told the Big Ten Network last week. “This hasn’t been a burden to her.”

Leading into No. 4 Iowa’s contest Thursday against Michigan, Clark had averaged a nation-leading 33.8 points through her last five games. History didn’t seem to weigh on her.

Time and again, as Clark passed opponents on the court and contemporaries in the record book, she elevated from 3 and rose to the occasion.  As she became the NCAA women’s basketball all-time leading scorer on Thursday, she did so in a 49-point outing, setting a new career-high and Iowa record in the process. Now, holding the NCAA scoring title with 3,569 points, her chase to the top will be remembered for her sheer dominance and unmatched consistency. “What she’s done to uplift our program and women’s basketball nationally is spectacular,” Bluder said after the Hawkeyes’ 106-89 win.


During Clark’s freshman season, her 3-point prowess was immediately apparent. In 30 games, she made 116 shots from behind the arc, more than double that of any of her teammates. According to CBB Analytics, Clark also knocked down 22 more above-the-break 3s in the 2020-21 season than any other player in the country, shooting almost half of her field goal attempts from that range.

Playing in a fast-paced system, Clark has been encouraged to shoot whenever, and from wherever, she feels comfortable. In each of the last three seasons, she has taken more than 30 percent of Iowa’s total shot attempts. By comparison, fellow top-five career scorers Kelsey Mitchell and Brittney Griner both took around 26 percent of their team’s shots during their senior seasons. Last year’s second-leading Big Ten scorer (behind Clark), Mackenzie Holmes, took only 21.6 percent of Indiana’s total field goal attempts.

Clark’s success from deep has been integral to her success. Of the four other players in NCAA top-five scoring, only Mitchell (2014-18) totaled more points from 3. Nevertheless, Clark’s point total, much like Plum’s, reflects a balanced repertoire. The 6-foot Iowa guard has recorded nearly 40 percent of her points from 2 and just over 40 percent from behind the arc.

Clark is a threat pretty much anywhere on the floor. Consider that she entered Thursday as a career-42.4 percent shooter on right wing 3s — the national average from there last season was 30.6 percent, according to CBB Analytics — while also shooting nearly 40 percent on left baseline 2s — just under 10 percent above the national average in 2023. Even around the rim, she’s more prolific than her peers, shooting 66.1 percent in her career heading into Iowa’s most recent victory, compared to the 57.1 percent Division I mark a year ago. “Most everybody wants to talk about her long-range shot,” assistant coach Abby Stamp said. “We are a little bit more full dimensional in how we view her game.”

Aside from Clark’s production around the basket, the second-highest percentage of her points come from the left wing. She often creates space from there for her defenders on step-back leaning triples.

As Clark’s career progressed, her game created a fervor. According to Vivid Seats, the average ticket price for Iowa’s road games this season is nearly $108. Of the Hawkeyes’ 32 regular-season games this season, 30 are either sold out or have set arena attendance records for women’s basketball — the lone exceptions were Iowa’s neutral site games at a Thanksgiving tournament.

Though Clark has lit up seemingly every foe she’s faced — only once in her 126 career games has she scored fewer than 10 points — there is no opponent she has dominated quite like Nebraska. Following last Sunday’s contest, in which she finished with 31 points, she has scored 309 total points against the Cornhuskers, the most against a single foe. Her success against conference contenders Indiana (226 points) and Ohio State (203 points) reinforces her greatness against the conference’s top competition. Unsurprisingly, Clark has thrived against Michigan as well, despite playing only her fifth game against the Wolverines on Thursday. She entered the record-breaking contest averaging 34.8 points against the Wolverines, her highest per game average against an opponent she’s played at least three times. That average only increased with her 49-point showing.

Beyond Big Ten schools, Clark has scored more than 100 points against three other conferences. In particular, she has thrived against Missouri Valley Conference schools. Of her 325 career points against MVC opponents, 102 of those are against Northern Iowa. Clark has scored 93 points on Drake, which is located in nearby Des Moines. Following a similar theme, the Big 12 opponent she’s scored the most against is Iowa State (114).

Stamp applauds Clark for her commitment to Iowa’s conditioning, nutrition and strength programs as often overlooked keys to her success. “I think she just deserves a ton of credit for how she’s bought into that, and the way she’s treated her body and really thinks of herself in a professional way,” Stamp said. Clark has remained durable and has never missed a game. She has averaged at least 33 minutes per game each season, too. Coupled with her availability and her ability to play extended minutes, Clark has created an opportunity for much of what she’s earned.

Following Thursday’s game, 799 of Clark’s 1,171 field goals have been unassisted, with teammates credited for an assist on only 372 baskets.

Considering the experience on Iowa’s roster, it’s not exactly surprising that sixth-year senior forward Kate Martin has thrown Clark the most assists. Fifth-year guard Gabbie Marshall has played four seasons with Clark and has found her backcourt mate open for shots the second-most.

Clark could take advantage of a COVID-19 eligibility rule and return to college for a fifth season. If she does, she would create even more distance from Plum and the rest of her peers, potentially creating an insurmountable margin for future generations to catch. Seven years went by between Clark and Plum setting the record, but if Clark goes pro, it might not take that long for a new standard. USC freshman guard JuJu Watkins is averaging 27.7 points per game — up from Clark’s 26.6 freshman average. Could another record chase be on the horizon?

(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; Data visuals: Drew Jordan / The Athletic; Photos of Caitlin Clark: Greg Fiume / Getty Images)



Source link

Leave a Comment

Exit mobile version