Kaitlyn Clark leads Iowa State in wins for all basketball fans

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ALBANY, N.Y. — Caitlin Clark, ever the entertainer, gave the show the entire country was clamoring to see.

yeah And LSU In a rematch of last year's title game. Clark and Angel Reyes, toe-to-toe again, only one of them advancing to the Final Four.

“I think everyone is very excited about it. We had 12 million people tune in last year to watch this game,” Iowa State coach Lisa Bluder said after the Hokies beat Colorado 89-68 to set a date with LSU in the Elite Eight on Monday night. “It may be the same this time.”

“These are two really good basketball teams, and it's unfortunate that they met this early,” Bluder added. “But everyone who's left now is really good. LSU is definitely that.”

The game has already peaked at 12.6 million viewers, but Bluder's point is clear. Clark and Reese's talk and playmaking at last year's game and before was an absolute gift to women's sports. The interest in women's sports that was already growing has exploded, and that has only continued this season.

That they will meet again in this year's NCAA Tournament — the last for Clark and perhaps Reese — is a gift to all of us.

“Any time you have the opportunity to face someone you've lost, it brings more energy,” Clark said. “At this point in the tournament, every team is good, whether you're playing West Virginia, whether you're playing Colorado, whether you're playing LSU, you prepare exactly the same way. You come in with exactly the same mentality.

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“Overall, it's going to be a really good game for women's basketball.”

Which made it that much better, there were times, both during the season and during this tournament, when it looked like it wasn't going to happen. Even after they were put on a collision course by the selection committee.

What, do you think the committee would have missed the opportunity to have a rematch? The panelists are fans of the game, too.

LSU, the No. 3 seed, has had a tough season and got all it could handle in its first-round game against Rice. Reese had a season-low 10 points against the Owls, though she did grab 19 rebounds.

Iowa State has looked weak since the Big Ten Tournament title game. The Hawkeyes needed overtime to beat Nebraska by three-peat before Holy Cross pushed them and West Virginia pushed them. It seemed as if the frenzy that surrounded them during Clark's assault on the record books had finally caught up with them, and it didn't help that they lost starter Molly Davis to injury in the regular season finale.

But Clark plays best when the spotlight is on her, and Saturday's game was no different.

more: Iowa and LSU meet again, this time in the Elite Eight. All eyes are on Kaitlyn Clark and Angel Reese

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She set the tone for the Hawkeyes with a layup on Iowa State's first possession and fed Gabbie Marshall and Kate Martin for the next two buckets. After Jaylen Sherrod's layup cut Iowa's lead to three, Clark fed Martin and then Hannah Stolke to start Iowa's run.

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By the time Clark hit a 3-pointer that would have taken it away for Massachusetts, Iowa State was ahead by 14 points and the game was effectively over. Colorado managed to get to single digits twice more in the first half, only for Clark to hit back each time.

Iowa State led by double digits the entire second half.

“It was the first time in about three games that we were able to put together what looked like a complete basketball game on both ends of the floor, whether it was in transition or on defense or actually executing our offense,” Clark said. “I think being able to build on that and take that momentum into our next game.”

Clark He finished with 29 points and 15 assists, and came within four rebounds of a triple-double. After six or more turnovers in the last five games, she had just two.

However, more important than Clark finding her groove is that the rest of the Iowa team has found their groove as well.

Four other Hawkeyes finished in double figures, including a double-double by Stuelke (11 points, 10 rebounds) and nearly one by Martin (14 points, nine boards). Sydney Affolter, who was pressed into the starting lineup after Davis' injury, had an impressive performance, going 6-for-6 from the floor and finishing with 15, her second-most of the season. Marshall finished with 14.

The Hawkeyes also held Colorado to under 38% shooting and won the rebounding battle 43-34.

“There's obviously a lot of interest in Caitlin, and she's going to get one or two people that have to look at her throughout the entire tenure. So I think that leaves other people open,” Marshall said. “And I think what you saw tonight is just a complete basketball game.” “

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It couldn't have come at a better time, because Reese and LSU are waiting.

In a season where almost every matchup Clark and Iowa have played has felt like a historic event, this one will be truly epic.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armor on social media @nrarmour.

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