Iowa's Caitlin Clark breaks NCAA women's basketball scoring record

ByMichael Voepel ESPN logo
Friday, February 16, 2024
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IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Caitlin Clark broke the NCAA women's career scoring record, making a long 3-pointer in the first quarter for No. 4 Iowa against Michigan on Thursday night.

Clark came into the game against Michigan with 3,520 points, needing eight to break the mark previously set by Washington's Kelsey Plum (3,527) from 2013 to '17. Clark scored her eighth point on a long 3-pointer just minutes into the game.

Clark made her first three shots -- a layup and two 3s -- and scored No. 4 Iowa's first eight points. The record-breaker was a 3 off the dribble on the left wing near the Mediacom Court logo with 7:48 left in the first quarter.

Clark could reach even more scoring milestones in her senior season: The AIAW large-school women's record -- set just before the NCAA era by Kansas' Lynette Woodard from 1977 to '81 -- is 3,649 points. The NCAA men's record is 3,667 by LSU's Pete Maravich from 1967 to '70, before freshmen eligibility in college basketball.

Clark is already the first Division I women's player to reach 3,000 points and 1,000 assists. But records and milestones are just part of Clark's story. She is a generational talent who is growing her sport's popularity.

"My favorite athletes are those who are champions in sports and champions in life, and Caitlin Clark is one of those athletes," tennis champion and women's sports advocate Billie Jean King told ESPN.

"She is the hottest star in basketball -- all of basketball, and not just women's basketball -- and with that comes a heavy responsibility to be a leader on and off the court. She gets it, and that is part of the reason she will have an opportunity to be one of the best in her sport and a role model for future generations."

There is a lot on the shoulders of the just-turned 22-year-old, but Clark looks as if she's having the time of her life. She plays with the same passion, confidence and joyful flair she first brought to the court as a college freshman in 2020, when games were mostly played in near-empty arenas because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, the "Caitlin Clark Show" is one of the toughest tickets to get in sports. Fans of all ages call out her name and wear her No. 22 jersey. Parents drive their children hundreds of miles to watch Clark. Police escort her to and from the arena on game days, and on and off the court.

NCAA rules changes regarding name, image and likeness have allowed Clark to appear in national advertising campaigns. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes complimented her game while talking to media in the lead up to the Super Bowl. Warriors guard Stephen Curry, widely considered the best shooter in NBA history, has praised Clark's shooting form and poise.

"Caitlin's special," said Curry, one of the players -- along with the WNBA's Sue Bird, Maya Moore, Plum and Sabrina Ionescu -- whom Clark has modeled her game after. "The record speaks for itself, and it's cool. From a scoring perspective, from a shooting perspective, just doing what she's doing -- she could pick anybody that she talks about in terms of being an inspiration. If she models something of her game after me, I don't take that for granted."

ESPN analyst, 1995 UConn national champion and 1996 Olympian Rebecca Lobo said Clark and Curry have similar qualities that make them both successful and appealing to a wide range of fans.

"Caitlin is the whole package," Lobo said. "She's playing the game a way we haven't seen before by a woman. We've not seen someone take that many shots from quite that distance and hit them at such (a high percentage).

"And she's like Steph Curry -- he's charismatic and he's not a physical giant. So every kid can visualize themselves as Caitlin Clark. It's not like, 'Well, to play like her I'd have to be 6-4 or 6-5.' Caitlin is 6-0, but you actually don't have to be that tall to try to do the things she does."

The West Des Moines, Iowa, native opted to stay in her home state for college, leading Iowa to the past two Big Ten tournament titles and the 2023 women's Final Four. Last season she broke the record for scoring in an NCAA tournament (191 points), had the first 40-point triple-double in NCAA postseason history, and led Iowa to an upset of undefeated No. 1 overall seed and defending champion South Carolina in the national semifinals.

Iowa fell to LSU in the championship game, which drew a record 9.9 million viewers on ABC. The 2023 NCAA tournament catapulted Clark to another level of popularity. That's continued to build since the Hawkeyes' preseason game in October at Iowa's football stadium, which drew 55,646 fans, a single-game attendance record for women's basketball.

"You need superstars in sports," Julie Foudy, an Olympic and Women's World Cup soccer champion, told ESPN. "Mia (Hamm) was our superstar. She was shy and introverted. Caitlin seems more comfortable dealing with all the attention.

"But Mia then, as Caitlin does now, also recognized the significance and importance of her popularity. The value of it, not just individually but collectively, and how so many other women could benefit from her stardom."

Clark could stay another season at Iowa, due to the COVID-19 waiver from 2020-21, or she could declare for the 2024 WNBA draft, where she is certain to be the No. 1 pick. Clark said she will wait to make that decision until after this season.

For now, she is focused on trying to win Big Ten regular-season and tournament championships for Iowa, and making a return trip to the women's Final Four. And with every additional point she scores, she will add to her own NCAA record.

Whether Clark goes to the WNBA this year or stays one more season at Iowa, Lobo thinks she will keep the momentum going in growing the sport's popularity.

"Caitlin has kept a level head and good balance. She has a magnetic personality," Lobo said. "There are just a lot of things that a lot of different people can relate to and love about the way she plays."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.