The Sweet 16 matchup between the No. 2 Iowa Hawkeyes and the sixth-seeded Colorado Buffaloes did not disappoint.
Or should I say, Caitlin Clark did not disappoint. But frankly, does she ever?
The red hot Hawkeyes (29-6) defeated the Buffs 87-77 in the first regional semifinal of the weekend in Climate Pledge Arena.
With their win and No. 5 Louisville’s victory over No. 8 Ole Miss, the Louisville Cardinals will be the next battle for Iowa.
Clark needed two points to move into second place on the Big Ten Conference’s single-season scoring list.
She finished the night with 31 to lead all scorers, complimented by three rebounds and eight assists. This was Clark’s 32nd game with at least 20 points this season, as she shot 11 of 22 from the field and 4 of 9 from three.
Four of Iowa’s starters finished in double figures. Kate Martin boasted 16 points while also snagging six rebounds and three assists.
Monika Czinano, affectionately known as the other half of “The law firm of Clark & Czinano,” scored 15 and pulled down a team-high seven rebounds.
McKenna Warnock, the fourth Iowa starter to complete the game in double digits, added 12 points, four rebounds, and two assists on an efficient 4 of 6 shooting.
Efficiency was the name of the game for the Hawkeyes, who came into the game leading Division-I in field goal percentage (51 percent). They shot 54.5 percent Friday evening while the Buffs made just 40.8 percent of their field goals.
Iowa outscored Colorado in every statistical category on the way to the 10-point victory. The Hawkeyes shot 42.1 percent from three (Colorado, 32.3 percent) and 79.2 percent from the free throw line (Colorado, 41.7 percent).
This year marks Iowa’s 29th trip to the NCAA tournament and this game was the Hawkeyes’ ninth Sweet 16 appearance in school history, so it’s safe to say they came in prepared for the pressure. With Friday’s win, Iowa is now 5-4 all-time in the Sweet 16.
The Colorado Buffaloes hung around for a majority of the game as the lower-seeded underdogs. The Buffs, who finished their season 25-9 including a third place finish in the Pac-12 (13-5), are now 19-15 all-time in NCAA tournament appearances and 5-4 all-time as the No. 6 seed.
Friday’s game marked the seventh Sweet 16 appearance for Colorado, and their first without first playing on their home court in March Madness action. The Buffs are now 3-4 in Sweet 16 action.
Junior guard Frida Formann led all Colorado scorers with 21 points before fouling out with 6:37 left to play.
The Buffs’ leading scorer Quay Miller (13.1 ppg) finished with 12 points, not scoring her first points until 1:32 left in the third quarter and shooting just 5 of 16 from the field. She wound up with her 10th double-double of the season and 15th of her career, collecting 14 rebounds to go along with her points.
Colorado had two others finish in double figures, including Aaronette Vonleh who wound up with 14 points. Jaylyn Sherrod finished with 11 points and nine assists before fouling out with 52.4 seconds left.
The nine assists, Sherrod’s second-highest total of the season, were nearly double her average of 4.9 per game.
Of Colorado’s 40 rebounds, more than half (21) came at the offensive end, leading to 15 second-chance points. It was the Buffs’ 13th game this season with at least 40 boards.
What stuck out to me even more than Caitlin Clark’s ability to score from every angle, see the floor like a true floor general, and rip down rebounds as a six-foot shooting guard, is her ability to make it look like she’s not even trying. She’s either hyping up the crowd or letting it rain from 40+ feet out but either way, the hours on end of training behind-the-scenes makes her play look effortless.
Just like most other superstars, if you look Clark’s way after she’s been called for a foul, she’ll be making eyes at the ref and questioning the call.
However what is interesting about the West Des Moines native’s game is her unconscious ability to draw fouls from the defense. Clark drew a game-high nine fouls, earning herself six foul shots, five of which she knocked down.
Just like her knack for convincing refs that she was hit, the game appears effortless to her no matter the opponent. I’m excited to watch her matchup with Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith in Elite Eight action. Van Lith publicly mentioned in an interview with Holly Rowe of her love and respect for Clark, and as the leading scorers for their respective teams, we’re in for a treat for Elite Eight hoops.
As one of only two Pac-12 teams to make it to the Sweet 16 this season (Utah lost in the Greenville 2 Sweet 16 regional to No. 3 LSU, 66-63), Colorado had themselves quite a year. This was the Buffs’ first Sweet 16 since 2003, marking the first time since 2001-04 that Colorado earned a spot in back-to-back NCAA tournaments.
Colorado earned it’s best finish in the conference this year, reaching 20 wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons.
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