Iowa's Caitlin Clark has said LSU's Angel Reese shouldn't be "criticized" for the gesture she directed at her.
Near the end of LSU's victory over Iowa in the NCAA women's basketball national championship game on Sunday, Reese could be seen approaching Clark before moving her open hand in front of her face -- popularized by WWE star John Cena to mean "You can't see me" -- before pointing to her ring finger in a gesture some interpreted as a reference to the place her newly-acquired championship ring might sit.
Clark made a similar gesture to another player earlier in the tournament.
The gesture sparked much debate, especially on social media. Some criticized Reese, while others defended her actions, highlighting how there was no public outrage in response to Clark's gesture earlier in the tournament.
In the press conference after claiming LSU's first NCAA women's basketball national championship, Reese referenced the difference in reaction she received as a result of her gesture compared to the one Clark received.
Clark, who had 30 points in the national championship game, said that trash talking is a part of basketball.
"I don't think Angel should be criticized at all," Clark said in an ESPN interview on Tuesday. "I'm just one that competes, and she competed. I think everybody knew there was going to be a little trash talk in the entire tournament. It's not just me and Angel."
"We're all competitive. We all show our emotions in a different way. You know, Angel is a tremendous, tremendous player. I have nothing but respect for her. I love her game -- the way she rebounds the ball, scores the ball, is absolutely incredible. I'm a big fan of her and even the entire LSU team. They played an amazing game."
She added: "Men have always had trash talk ... You should be able to play with that emotion ... That's how every girl should continue to play."
Clark also echoed what she said in the immediate aftermath of Sunday's game, saying that she didn't see the gesture Reese made at the time.
"I haven't been on social media a ton since we lost," Clark said. "But I think the biggest thing is, it was a competitive, super, super fun game. That's what's going to bring more people to our game. I think the viewership speaks for itself."
"I'm just lucky enough that I get to play this game and have emotion and wear it on my sleeve, and so does everybody else. So that should never be torn down. That should never be criticized because I believe that's what makes this game so fun. That's what draws people to this game. That's how I'm going to continue to play. That's how every girl should continue to play."
Criticism around dual White House invite
Clark's comments come a day after first lady Jill Biden appeared to walk back suggestions that the White House might invite both LSU and Iowa's women's basketball teams.
Speaking on Monday, Biden congratulated both teams on their performance in Sunday's national championship game, as well as specifically highlighting Iowa's sportsmanship.
It is traditional for the national champions to be invited to the White House, but not for the runners-up. Reese tweeted a link to the story which included Biden's comments, calling it "A JOKE" along with three rolling-on-floor-laughing emojis.
In a comment on an Instagram post from 'The Shade Room' which included Reese's tweet, the recently crowned NCAA champion said: "WE NOT COMING. period."
Press secretary to the first lady Vanessa Valdivia sought to clarify Biden's comments on Tuesday, saying in a tweet that they "were intended to applaud the historic game and all women athletes. She looks forward to celebrating the LSU Tigers on their championship win at the White House."
Hawkeyes junior guard Clark weighed in on the matter, saying that she believed LSU should celebrate their moment in the sun alone.
"I don't think runner-ups usually go to the White House. I think LSU should enjoy that moment for them, and congratulations, obviously, they deserve to go there. Maybe, I could go to the White House on different terms though," Clark said.
"That's for LSU. That's a pretty cool moment and they should enjoy every single second of being a champion."
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder agreed with Clark's thoughts.
"I gratefully acknowledge the First Lady's sentiments, but a day at the White House should belong solely to the champion, LSU and Coach Mulkey," Bluder tweeted. "We would welcome the First Lady and President to come to Iowa's 'House' -- Carver Hawkeye Arena -- any time!"
On Tuesday, Clark earned yet another award for her record-breaking season -- the 2023 John Wooden Award for most outstanding player in women's college basketball.
Clark and Reese both had outstanding individual seasons and, through their own unique skillsets and personalities, helped popularize women's college basketball to a whole different level.
After Sunday's national championship, Reese acknowledged that she's grown the game; a sentiment Clark echoed.
"It's honestly probably pretty hard for me to wrap my head around (the last season)," Clark said. "It will probably take me a few weeks to reflect on the whole year. Just the last month in general has been kind of a wild whirlwind, and I'm lucky to be a part of it.
"I just want to inspire young boys and young girls to be able to dream and do the same things that I have done. I was just that young girl. I looked up to WNBA players, NBA players, college athletes, even other pro sport athletes. All you have to do is dream, work really hard, and be surrounded by really, really good people that believe in you, too."
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