Wednesday, February 21

Caitlin Clark’s green-light range made her the gold standard in women’s college basketball

IOWA CITY, Iowa — It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact moment when it was determined in Iowa that any shot that left Caitlin Clark’s hands was not just a reasonable shot, but also a good shot. Because there are green lights, and then there are green lights. And Clark has matter-of-factly operated in the latter for much of her career.

But there’s a solid argument to be made that it was Feb. 6, 2022.

It was Clark’s sophomore season, and while she had been putting up big numbers, she wasn’t yet considered the one-woman wrecking crew that she has now become. To get to that level of lore, a player needs to not just throw the rocks but slay Goliath. And at that point, though she was a massive scorer, she was on a team that hadn’t yet taken down the best opponents. The Hawkeyes were 1-9 against top-25 teams in her career and they were on the road facing No. 6 Michigan.

She started the game with a step-back from the free throw line and followed up with a pull-up triple. She tossed in some drives and more mid-ranges, but the real treat came when she began hitting logo 3s during the fourth quarter as the Hawkeyes (read: Clark) attempted to pull off the upset. In one 92-second span she hit three transition 3s, the final while being swarmed by Michigan defenders who Clark put on skates. She finished with 46 points. Though Iowa still lost, something in that night shifted.

As the broadcasters shouted through their mics after yet another logo triple, “What did she do? What did she just do?” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder walked calmly along the sideline, not even surprised or elated enough to uncross her arms. Without context, she simply looks like a coach saying same old, same old as she turned to her bench.

“At first, when you’re coaching her, it’s kind of entertaining in practice when she takes some of those and makes some of those shots. But then in games as the coach, you’re thinking, ‘Oof, that’s not advised,’ ” Bluder said. “But there’s the point where you realize, ‘She’s different than everyone else and she can actually make these at a pretty alarming rate.’

“There was a shift in my mind,” she added. “At that point it was like, ‘OK, we’re going to go with this.’”

“This” as in: For Clark, anything goes.

And since Feb. 6, 2022, this has worked pretty well for both Clark and Iowa. The senior is now 39 points shy of the NCAA women’s basketball scoring record, and the Hawkeyes, who slayed South Carolina — the Goliath of women’s basketball — in last season’s Final Four, are now recognized nationally as a powerhouse and firmly nationally ranked No. 2 this season behind the Gamecocks.

Clark is a recognized name outside of the women’s basketball world, a player who is shadowed by security officers before and after games and at public events. She has NIL partnerships with Nike, State Farm and Gatorade. She is the presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft if she declares, and the biggest headache for opposing coaches in women’s college hoops if she opts to return for her fifth year.


Ask coaches who’ve faced her (or who fear they could down the line), and they’ll all explain the same thing: You don’t stop her. You might slow her down, you might make her more inefficient, but there is no stopping Clark. When Clark dropped those 46 points on Michigan in 2022, Wolverine coach Kim Barnes Arico said after the game, “I didn’t even know what the heck was going on.”

That might be the most impressive part of her run toward the scoring record — Clark’s unwavering consistency. She has never missed a game. In 124 outings at Iowa, she has failed to score in double digits only once. As she has stretched her range over the past four seasons, her field goal percentages have steadily risen. “Her consistency is off the charts,” Bluder said Thursday night after Clark scored 27 points in a victory against Penn State. “For her to do this day after day, night after night, sold out arenas, chasing records, for her to be this consistent is incredible. Everybody has a bad night. We all have bad nights. Caitlin doesn’t have bad nights.”

As teams have thrown new and different defensive looks at her, she has continued to outpace whatever opponents can create. Double her, and she finds the angle. Crowd her, and she rises above to hit the shot. Throw the kitchen sink at her only to find out she can hit logo 3s and do dishes at the same time.

Of the top-10 scorers in Division I history, only two averaged more than 25 points during their entire college careers (current record-holder Kelsey Plum: 25.4; Elena Delle Donne: 26.7).

Clark has averaged 28.1.

This season, fans from across the Big Ten have shelled out hundreds of dollars to get their butts in conference arenas in the hopes that their “home” team might be met with a 46-point drubbing from the 6-foot guard just so they, too, can have The Caitlin Clark Experience.

Under the microscope, Clark hasn’t wavered either. Her worst game this season — a 24-point, six-rebound, three-assist night against Kansas State — would still be a career night for 99 percent of college basketball players.

Said Clark after the game: “I think it shows you’ve got to come in every single day and be ready to play basketball because no matter who it is, you can beat anybody, you can lose [to] anybody. That’s a great thing about women’s basketball. That’s what makes it so fun. I’m just disappointed we didn’t really put on a great performance for our fans who came out and supported us really well.”

GO DEEPER

When will Caitlin Clark break the women’s college basketball all-time scoring record?

Because when you’re watching Clark, it’s not just basketball, it’s a true performance that she’s putting on for the fans who show up with not just a hope but an expectation to be wowed and amazed. They don’t want 3s, they want logo 3s. They don’t want no-look passes, they want to see something they’ve never seen before. They want the show that Clark’s coaches and teammates have gotten in practice over the past four seasons. They don’t just want Bluder’s green light for Clark, they want her on the Autobahn for 40 minutes.

For all that attention, Clark has not just delivered, she has been consistently great, consistently leaving viewers asking, “What did she do? What did she just do?”

Now, she’s perhaps a few quarters away from cementing herself at the top of the NCAA women’s scoring record, a feat that for Clark — with that green light — seems as though it could be just one or two really good quarters away from becoming the scoring maestro.

(Photo of Caitlin Clark: G Fiume / Getty Images)