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February is Women's History Month!

Why there's a basketball fan frenzy over Iowa's Caitlin Clark

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark celebrates as she walks off the court after an NCAA college basketball game against Nebraska on Jan. 27.
Charlie Neibergall
/
AP
Iowa guard Caitlin Clark celebrates as she walks off the court after an NCAA college basketball game against Nebraska on Jan. 27.

News outlets, including CBS Sports, USA Today and The Baltimore Sun, call it the "Caitlin Clark" effect.

Both fans and strangers of women's college basketball alike have been flocking to watch the 22-year-old University of Iowa student athlete's attempt to become the NCAA's all-time leading women's scorer.

"I feel like I'm watching a combination of Pistol Pete Maravich and Steph Curry. She's so fluid. She plays the game in a different dimension," said FOX Sportsannouncer Gus Johnson.

Clark, the Hawkeyes guard, has become a phenomenon — sparking long lines for her autograph, selling out arenas and skyrocketing the cost of tickets.

On Wednesday, Northwestern University saw its first-ever sold-out game for women's basketball in a match against Clark and the Hawkeyes. Meanwhile, resale tickets for the upcoming tournament between Iowa and the Maryland Terrapins on Saturday range from $123 to $1,454, according to TicketMaster.

With help from Clark, as well as Angel Reese of the LSU Tigers and JuJu Watkins of the USC Trojans, women's college basketball has become increasingly popular over the years.

Last year, the women's Final Four got an average 4.5 million viewers — about a 66% increase from the year before.

"The talent is just so good now with the women. The competition is so good," said Washington Post columnist and frequent ESPN panelist Kevin Blackistone on NPR's Morning Edition last April.

Clark's rise to stardom

Clark, from West Des Moines, Iowa, was considered a force to be reckoned with even before her college career. In high school, she won two gold medals with Team USA in the FIBA world cups at the youth level.

In her freshman season, Clark averaged 26.6 points, 7.1 assists, and 5.9 rebounds per game, according to the University of Iowa. That academic year, she racked up multiple awards, including co-freshman of the year by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association.

In 2020, Lisa Bluder, the head coach for Iowa women's basketball, described Clark as an "offensive threat" who would only get better with time.

In her sophomore year, Clark earned her third gold medal at the FIBA under-19 World Cup and was honored as the MVP of the tournament.

In 2023, Clark led the Iowa team to its first Final Four appearance in 30 years and its first ever national championship game. The Hawkeyes ultimately lost to the Louisiana State University's Tigers, 102-85. But the game helped Clark break the NCAA record for most points in a tournament. The previous record was set in 1993 by Sheryl Swoopes.

Why people can't stop talking about her

The senior has become a must-see attraction, especially while it is unclear if she will stay in school for a fifth year or begin her career in the WNBA. (Clark has an extra year of eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic.) If she decides to be drafted, Clark is expected to be the No. 1 pick.

The University of Iowa's women's basketball team has never won an NCAA championship, but the title seems closer than ever with a seasoned Clark on the team. Selections for March Madness begin on March 17 and the championship is scheduled for April 7 in Cleveland.

With Clark on the roster, spectators can expect to see some records broken at a game. The match against Northwestern's Wildcats marked Clark's 50th career game with 30+ points — a feat unseen in either men's or women's college basketball in the last 25 seasons, according to the University of Iowa.

It was also her 80th consecutive game making a 3-pointer. Clark is also considered the first Division 1 player to reach 3,300+ points, 900+ assists, and 800+ rebounds in a career.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.