Caitlin Clark gets shot at March Madness greatness with help of moving screen

CLEVELAND — Caitlin Clark gets 40 more minutes, gets 40 last minutes to try to wear the crown as Queen of her sport.

Be there in front of your television if you aren’t lucky enough to plunge deep into your pockets for a seat inside Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse to watch Caitlin Clark try to shoot down a 36-0 South Carolina powerhouse and consume the conversation as The GOAT of women’s college basketball if she does.

Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good, and a controversial and debatable moving screen called against Aaliyah Edwards with 3.9 seconds left at a time when UConn had the chance to pull up off the upset and left Geno Auriemma livid and biting his tongue and the Huskies devastated and understandably fighting off that We Wuz Robbed feeling.

Hannah Stuelke had a pass stolen. UConn called timeout. 9.3 seconds left. Iowa 70, UConn 69.

Then came The Call Heard ’Round Storrs.

“Not one single play wins a basketball game or loses a basketball game,” a sobbing Paige Bueckers said with no more season left.

This one helped push Caitlin Clark, the sport’s marquee attraction, the television people’s choice, to the national championship game.

Caitlin Clark celebrates with her teammates after Iowa’s 71-69 Final Four win over UConn. Getty Images

Clark was denied in the championship game a year ago and has returned with a vengeance.

She was not Superwoman on Friday night during Iowa’s 71-69 spinetingler victory over UConn, and she will have to be Superwoman for the final 40 minutes of her record-breaking career. She even missed the second of two free throws with 3.9 seconds left following The Call Heard ’Round Storrs and was fortunate that Sydney Affolter forced a held ball on the rebound.

She may have to play the best game of her life for Iowa to survive Dawn Staley’s South Carolina juggernaut.

Clark had the pro-Iowa crowd roaring for her again against UConn and Bueckers, and she will have it trying to will her to the top of the women’s college basketball mountain starting at 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Little girls clad in their No. 22 jerseys were littered around the arena. And not so little girls.

Aaliyah Edwards was called for an illegal screen in the final seconds of UConn’s
Final Four loss to Iowa. Screengrab

Larry Bird lost in the 1979 NCAA championship game to Magic Johnson and Michigan State, but it never stopped anyone from calling him Larry Legend.

Caitlin Clark’s intoxicating on-court genius and her elevating her sport the way she has and her accepting the role of inspirational role model guarantees her legend status when she takes her talents to the WNBA.

But if you want your legacy to be defied by winning a championship, Caitlin Clark gets these 40 last minutes to ascend to the throne.

In a way, she will be Eli Manning looking to end Tom Brady’s Perfect Patriots season.

On this night, Clark wasn’t the markswoman the nation had come to love. She was blanketed by Nika Muhl, with a help defender at the ready. She was 3-for-11, 0-for-6 from West Des Moines in the first half, with three turnovers and four assists and six points. She finished with 21 points on 7-for-18 shooting — 3-for-11 from 3-point range — with nine rebounds, seven assists and four turnovers.

Caitlin Clark drives on Paige Bueckers during Iowa’s Final Four win over UConn. Getty Images

“They did a tremendous job guarding me,” Clark said.

Auriemma was cutting off the head of the snake. The Huskies made her give the ball up. Her passes were being denied. A lazy one for Stuelke was stolen by Edwards. Iowa trailed by nine. With 6:41 remaining before the half, Caitlin Clark had two points, an opening-minute layup.

UConn’s defense left her frazzled and her teammates unnerved.

The pro-Iowa crowd sat frozen and shell-shocked.

Superwoman needed to show up and show up fast to save the season. Superwoman didn’t show up so fast.

Caitlin Clark (left) celebrates with teammates after Iowa’s Final Four win. Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register / USA TODAY NETWORK

Her left wing 3 early in the second half had the Hawkeye crowd waiting for the explosion.

She swished a left wing 3 and fell down in front of the Iowa bench and was fouled and sank the free throw and the Hawkeyes were down 44-43.

And here came the noise that Iowa makes for a heroine.

She had gotten more help from her teammates than usual, especially the mild-mannered Stuelke, who played with a raging fire (23 points) too often missing.

“We wouldn’t be at this point right now if it was just one player,” Clark said.

Well, there have been occasions when it was just one player. Her.

Fourth quarter now. Iowa 51, UConn 51.

Winning Time.

And now Clark recognized it.

Clark went behind her back and drilled a 3.

Roar.

She drove to the hoop and was fouled. Made both free throws. Hit a pull-up jumper. Missed an ill-advised logo 3. Deflected and stole a pass and fed Stuelke for a layup.

It proved to be enough, barely.

She lost the ball and Bueckers drilled a 3.

The killer moving screen saved her and her season.

Caitlin Clark will be the underdog this time. Fine with her. She gets these 40 last minutes. All she ever wanted. No matter how she got it.

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