Caitlin Clark’s senior day another Iowa milestone as she passes Pete Maravich’s record

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Standing in front of every seat throughout Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday was a similar story. Caitlin Clark, the most transcendent figure in modern sports, once again brought out the stars and fans.

In her final regular-season game in the state she calls home, Clark scored 35 points to surpass “Pistol” Pete Maravich’s career total and become the most prolific scorer in Division I basketball history, men’s or women’s.

Clark’s moment was communal for all in attendance, from the fans clad in her T-shirts to the celebrities adding flavor to the spectacle. Rapper Travis Scott danced courtside with the Iowa cheerleaders. The “Jake from State Farm” commercial actor wore a Kristin Juszczyk-designed Clark vest, and Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan took in the scene near the floor.

Clark’s childhood hero and former Lynx great Maya Moore congratulated her protege after the game. Iowa brought in former Kansas star Lynette Woodard — who set the AIAW women’s basketball scoring record — to a standing ovation. ESPN broadcaster Holly Rowe emceed the senior day ceremony. College Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman Robert Gallery was decked in a Clark No. 22 jersey. Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks sat inauspiciously 10 rows behind the Iowa bench wearing a Clark T-shirt.

Those names and faces turned the event into an extravaganza. The fans built it into a celebration. Everyone wanted a piece of Clark, and she was more than happy to share herself in the moment.

“You can just feel the energy and the joy and the excitement that our team plays with, and that’s contagious,” Clark said. “Our fans give us that energy, but we give it right back to them.”

Clark passed Maravich’s record with 0.3 seconds left in the first half. Instead of sending a long-distance 3-pointer — as she had with previous record-breaking buckets — Clark sank two free throws following a technical foul to surpass Maravich’s mark, which he set at LSU in 1970. She had needed just 18 points against Ohio State to pass Maravich, her latest milestone after setting the NCAA women’s all-time scoring record.

“Honestly, I didn’t really care,” Clark said. “It was cool to hear everybody just start screaming. I thought that gave us a lot of momentum going into halftime.”

More important to Clark, the No. 6 Hawkeyes beat No. 2 Ohio State 93-83 to split their season series.

GO DEEPER

Pete Maravich’s son sees his dad in Caitlin Clark’s game: ‘He would have been a big fan’

Fans young and old, local and from more than 1,000 miles away, came to take in one of the last glimpses of Clark playing at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Hayden Kinnick Zacher, 11, came from Colorado to watch her. He wedged himself amid the courtside chaos with hundreds of other youngsters to collect an autographed Caitlin Clark jersey. He succeeded. Georgia teens Pierce Moore and Ellie Hargrove, both 14, who flew in for the game as a birthday present to Moore, displayed their homemade signs with pride. One read: “Pistol taught me how to dribble. Caitlin taught me to dream.”


These fans from Georgia came to watch Clark play in her final regular-season home game at Iowa. (Scott Dochterman / The Athletic)

Phyllis Opperman, a retired former Iowa resident, left her winter home in Panama City Beach, Fla., and held a sign about her 1,022-mile drive that started Thursday. She laughed and said the trip was 1,028 miles but liked including the 22 as part of her sign.

Welcome to the Caitlin Clark Experience, which is nearing its black-and-gold conclusion, as Clark will enter the WNBA Draft in April, where she’s the presumed No. 1 selection. Of Iowa’s 32 regular-season games this year, 30 have sold out, with several breaking arena attendance records. This coming weekend, the second-seeded Hawkeyes will compete in the Big Ten tournament, which was sold out for the first time — 12 days in advance. Iowa likely will host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, which means another pair of sellouts.

Just to get into Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Sunday, resale tickets started at $451. ESPN’s “College GameDay” aired live before tipoff, Fox broadcasted the game, and 275 credentialed media members were present. The arena was half-full three hours before tipoff and jampacked well before starting lineups. The crowd’s roar consistently exceeded 100 decibels in almost every possession of the game. Four times it peaked at 116 decibels.

Clark fandom might be reaching its peak nationally, but in Iowa City, the faithful have known nearly since she arrived on campus in 2020 that they were in for four years of fun. She scored 27 points in her college debut, recorded the only 40-point triple-double in the NCAA Tournament and set program records with 49 points in a game while leading Iowa to two Big Ten tournament titles and a national championship appearance last season.

Since February, she has climbed the scoring ranks, first passing Kelsey Plum on Feb. 15 to become the all-time leading scorer in NCAA women’s basketball. Last week, she moved past Woodard’s AIAW large-school record. After passing Maravich’s total, she has 3,685 career points to sit at the pinnacle of major college basketball scoring.

Nowhere is Clark’s stardom more apparent than when she walks off the floor. Knowing it was her final regular-season game, Clark met hundreds of youngsters near the Iowa bench and signed posters, shoes, jerseys and even a stuffed animal. Every other second, a high-pitched “Caitlin!” was yelped from near the tunnel.

With four security guards bracketing her from anyone too ambitious, Clark signed for nearly 20 minutes. This started along the Iowa bench 45 minutes after the game. It ended right in front of the locker room.

When it comes to Clark, it’s not just about the points, the logo 3s, the cross-court assists or the shrugs. It’s about how she makes fans feel in her presence. About a month ago, 9-year-old Penelope Pearson of North Liberty, Iowa, sat courtside for the Iowa-Nebraska game. Pearson’s Christmas present in December was a ticket to watch Clark. A week before the holiday, Pearson was diagnosed with leukemia and couldn’t attend.

One day before Iowa-Nebraska on Jan. 27, Penelope had a chemotherapy treatment. Then her mother, Liz, got a call from someone who could give them tickets. Penelope wanted to go despite her weakened state. “She’s the strongest kid I know,” Liz Pearson said. Penelope dyed her hair pink and sat near the court. Clark, who was alerted about her presence, grabbed security as soon as the game ended, pointed to Penelope and pulled the family onto the floor for an autograph, a hug and a conversation.

“It’s just been an inspiration to be able to see these strong women. And Penelope knows that she can pretty much do anything, as long as she has these people to look up to,” Liz Pearson said as she teared up.

Clark’s impact transcends gender as well. Two hours after Clark left the floor, the West Burlington (Iowa) High boys basketball team held a practice at Carver-Hawkeye ahead of the state tournament. Boys took turns launching 3-pointers from Clark’s marker from where she broke Plum’s NCAA record. That spot is 33 feet from the basket. Of their repeated attempts — too many to count — more balls hit the floor than drew iron. But every 3-pointer from Clark’s depth led to high-fives.

From the “College GameDay” setup to the Falcons shooting from the logo 10 hours later, Clark reminded everyone why she is one of one. She’s Teflon to pressure and expectations and proves it on the court. She is beyond generous with her time. Whether it’s a millionaire rapper, a little girl with cancer or a grandmother who has held tickets for 30 years, Clark treats everyone with kindness and a flash of her megawatt smile.

“I’m just so happy for Caitlin,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “I think she represents the university, our sport. … She’s such a good ambassador. And I’m very thankful for that.”

(Top photo: Matthew Holst / Getty Images)



Source link

Leave a Comment

Exit mobile version