February 26, 2024

Caitlin Clark’s march to the record has been postponed, but she is focused on team goals

LINCOLN, Nebraska – On the bright side, Caitlin Clark will become the NCAA’s new all-time leading scorer in front of her home crowd later this week, just as a fairy tale or Hollywood script might have intended.

She is just eight points away from passing Kelsey Plum and her 3,527 points in the record books. And considering Clark leads the nation in scoring with 32.2 points per game, that feat seems quite attainable sometime in the first half when No. 2 Iowa hosts Michigan on Thursday night.

[Caitlin Clark top moments: Chasing record]

But Clark could have made history on Super Bowl Sunday. Instead, Iowa suffered its third loss of the season when unranked Nebraska scored an 82-79 rout in a sold-out Pinnacle Bank Arena.

Some fans stormed the field celebrating one of the biggest wins in program history against a team led by a generational star and future No. 1 WNBA draft pick. After scoring 31 points through three quarters, Clark fell silent in the fourth, going 0-for-6 from the field as the Huskers staged a comeback. It was the first time Clark played an entire fourth quarter and didn’t score.

“Our goals are still intact,” Clark said.

She’s less concerned with the scoring record than with helping her team win the Big Ten, return to the Final Four and this time win the national championship.

“I mean, I’m not really thinking about it right now,” Clark said of the history she’s about to make. “I just think we’re going to get better, go home and play in front of our fans and execute the way we know we can execute. I think it’s important for this team.”

While there may be theories floating around that the Hawkeyes (22-3, 11-2) were focused on making sure Clark would break the record in Iowa City and not Lincoln or elsewhere, it’s not like Clark was actively trying not to score in the match. the fourth quarter. Nebraska turned its defensive game plan into a box-and-one, with Kendall Moriarty tasked with taking Clark away to hopefully slow things down.

Whatever Clark did – her movements on and off the ball are one of the most mesmerizing things in sports these days – Moriarty stuck to her assignment and kept Clark from becoming dangerous.

And from breaking the record. Entering the fourth quarter, Clark only needed to score eight points, but he couldn’t.

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark scores 31 points and 10 assists in loss at Nebraska

Iowa's Caitlin Clark scores 31 points and 10 assists in loss at Nebraska

She was visibly frustrated after the buzzer sounded and said this type of defense is something the Hawkeyes have practiced before, but not recently.

“We should have been ready,” Clark said. “We should have run our offense better. We have the rules of the game. We have an offense that we should have run. We just didn’t execute it. We didn’t get to our spots. We didn’t cut into the paint.”

‘Just be ready [next time].”

The Hawkeyes led by as many as 14 points late in the third quarter. But in the fourth, every time Iowa made a play or hit a monster shot, Nebraska (16-8, 8-5) responded with a shot of its own. Especially Jaz Shelley, who led her team with 23 points, 10 of which came in the final 10 minutes. Perhaps no other bucket was as clutch as when she hit a 3 with 30.2 seconds left to give the Huskers a 78-77 lead, their first of the game. The raucous crowd stood up and Shelley tapped “You can’t see me,” waving her hand over her face as Clark has done on occasion.

Iowa never took the lead again. Even though the environment was ripe for it. The arena, which has a seating capacity of 15,500, was filled with Hawkeyes fans who lined up in 90-degree temperatures, waiting for blocks before they could enter. Once they did, “Let’s Go Hawks!” chants sounded early and often.

“This is unreal” – Jaz Shelley after Nebraska’s huge win

Behind each basket were several rows of photographers and TV cameras. Clark’s number 22 was everywhere – on jerseys and T-shirts, on adults and on children. Clever posters were as popular as friendship bracelets at a Taylor Swift concert. A little boy counted down the score on his, a teenage girl somehow attached Christmas lights to the edge of hers, and a young girl wearing a Clark T-shirt cut a yellow poster board into a heart and wrote: “#22 will you be my Valentine?”

It felt like an Iowa home game. And if Clark had scored the 39 points she needed entering this match to break Plum’s record, she would have been celebrated accordingly. More than twenty friends and family members were also present.

“When you come out and see more yellow at first, it’s kind of scary when you get home,” Nebraska center Alexis Markowski said. “We took it as a challenge. We knew we were the underdogs in this situation, gave it everything and came out on top.”

Nebraska players said afterward that they didn’t know how many points Clark needed to score and that they weren’t motivated by it. Clark said the scoring record was not a distraction and he felt uncomfortable talking about it, especially after a loss.

Nebraska puts on a defensive clinic on its final possession

Nebraska puts on a defensive clinic on its final possession

“It hasn’t been a distraction at all,” Clark said emphatically. ‘It is what it is. It’s what comes with the area. If it happens, it happens. It really won’t affect my life that much.’

That’s because Clark focuses on team goals and not individual ones — even though her 31 points and 10 assists on Sunday made her the first men’s or women’s player in Division I history to reach 3,000 points and 1,000 assists. Clark smiled when that nugget was brought to her attention, but quickly brought it back to her teammates.

“I mean, obviously it’s going to be special, but I think the biggest focus right now is finding ways to grow, finding ways to get better, because this is another case where we’re once again ahead forfeit, and that’s something that has to be done.” stop, and we just could have performed better,” Clark said.

“That’s my main focus right now.”

More on Caitlin Clark chasing the all-time scoring record in Division I:

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and football for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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