Party for first-timers: Clark, Iowa will play LSU for title
DALLAS (AP) — Caitlin Clark gets the national stage for one more game this season. Same with the Texas homecoming for Alexis Morris.
The standout guards have made it a party of first-timers for the women’s NCAA championship game Sunday.
Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes knocked off undefeated defending national champion South Carolina 77-73 in the semifinals Friday night.
Morris, in her second stint with flamboyant coach Kim Mulkey, led LSU’s rally in a 79-72 victory over Virginia Tech in the early game at the Final Four.
Clark, the Associated Press Player of the Year, scored 41 points for Iowa (31-6). The Hawkeyes lost 73-72 in overtime to Ohio State 30 years ago in their only previous Final Four appearance.
“I think we have to be able to enjoy this for a moment but also reset our minds,” Clark said. “We’re here to hoist the trophy. We’re here to cut down another championship net. We need to take care of our bodies. We need to take care of our minds.”
Morris scored 27 points to get the Tigers (33-2) past the semifinals for the first time in their sixth try. The first five were consecutive from 2004-08.
Mulkey is just the third coach to take multiple teams to the Final Four after going four times with Baylor and winning three championships. She has a 7-1 record on the big stage.
It took Mulkey five years to get Baylor to the championship game. She did it in two with the flagship school in her home state.
“You think about all the great men’s players that have played at LSU,” Mulkey said. “You think about all the great women’s players that have played. When they told me none had ever played for a national championship, I was kind of surprised. That’s an accomplishment. That’s a step in the right direction.”
Iowa was a No. 2 seed playing the team that had been ranked No. 1 all season. South Carolina was trying to become the first repeat winner since UConn in 2016.
The Hawkeyes came to the Final Four with the most losses among the remaining teams, but the best player. And they guaranteed that a No. 1 seed won’t win the title for the first time since 2011.
Now Clark will match wits with Morris while Iowa figures out how to deal with star LSU post player Angel Reese, who had 24 points and 12 rebounds to tie an NCAA single-season record with her 33rd double-double.
The Hawkeyes found a way to overcome the South Carolina size advantage headlined by Aliyah Boston and will have to do it again with Reese.
“It’s just a business mentality at this point, and I think we’ve done a really good job of doing that in the past,” said McKenna Warnock, who had a critical offensive rebound in the final minute against South Carolina. “The Big Ten tournament prepares you for this, and I think that’s kind of how we look at it.”
Morris, who grew up in Beaumont near the southeast Texas coast, played for Mulkey at Baylor as a freshman before a circuitous career that included stops at Rutgers and Texas A&M.
The feisty 5-foot-6 guard is in her second season of a reunion with Mulkey and knows her career is about to end a couple of hundred miles from home.
Morris was agitated over questions about matching up against 3-pointer wizard Georgia Amoore of Virginia Tech. The questions will be coming again with Clark on the other side.
“It still hasn’t hit me,” Morris said. “Maybe if we’re the standing champions at the end, then maybe I can just let go and just be like ahhh, like relief.”
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