Michael Voepel, ESPN.com
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Caitlin Clark had no specific plan for how she hoped to break the NCAA women’s basketball scoring record Thursday. But after doing so while also setting the Iowa Hawkeyes‘ single-game scoring record, Clark had to grin.
“You all knew I was going to shoot a logo 3 for the record,” said Clark, who now has 3,569 career points, 49 of them coming Thursday. And indeed, every aspect of the night seemed storybook perfect for the senior star.
Clark came into No. 4 Iowa’s 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 2017. Clark did it about as quickly as she possibly could.
She got the ball off the opening tip and drove in for a layup. Then she hit a deep 3-pointer from her favorite spot on the court, the left side. An even deeper 3-pointer from the same side — one of Clark’s signature shots from the logo — produced pandemonium from the packed house at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
It took Clark just 2 minutes and 12 seconds to become the NCAA record holder. By the end of Iowa’s 106-89 victory over the Wolverines, she had also bested Megan Gustafson’s school record of 48.
“I don’t know if you can really script it any better,” Clark said. “Just to do it in this fashion, I’m very grateful. Very thankful to be surrounded by so many people that have been my foundation.”
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This was Clark’s fourth career game scoring 45 points or more, and she had 13 assists. In total, she scored or assisted on 79 of Iowa’s 106 points (74.5%).
“It really is hard to stop Caitlin Clark,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said.
“I think she does enjoy it,” she added of how Clark seems to shine the brightest in the biggest moments. “If you work that hard at your craft, don’t you want to share it with everybody? Don’t you want to express it?”
Both Clark and Bluder had said coming into the game that they didn’t anticipate a stoppage of play when the record came. However, Iowa took a timeout, and Clark’s teammates gathered with her in a joyous group hug on the court. Clark’s broad smile told the story of the night: the chase record she said never felt like a burden was now hers to celebrate.
She was far from done, though. Clark went 8-of-10 from the field — 5-of-7 from 3-point range — in the first quarter, scoring 23 points. It was the most points she has scored in any first quarter in her Iowa career, and the second most of any quarter. She had 25 in the fourth quarter of a loss to Michigan on Feb. 6, 2022.
From there, it was just a matter of how high she would go Thursday.
“Honestly, warming up, my shot just felt good,” Clark said. “So I knew it was going to be one of those nights, and I kind of played with a little bit more pep in my step. I knew that’s what this team needed coming off a loss.”
Clark had 31 points Sunday at Nebraska as the Hawkeyes were upset 82-79. But there was nothing the Wolverines could do to prevent Clark from taking over Thursday. Bluder praised Michigan, saying that as hard as the Wolverines battled in the game, they also gave Clark a gift and wrote congratulatory notes to her.
Not Done Yet
Iowa has four regular-season games remaining before an anticipated postseason run, giving Caitlin Clark more shots at history. She is:
• 81 points shy of passing Hall of Famer Lynette Woodard. Woodard (3,649) set the AIAW major-college record at Kansas from 1978 to 1981 before the NCAA began governing women’s athletics.
• 99 points shy of passing Hall of Famer Pete Maravich (3,667) for the most points in Division I history (men’s and women’s).
• 316 points shy of passing Hall of Famer Pearl Moore. Moore (3,884) set the overall AIAW record at Francis Marion from 1975 to 1979.
• 258 points shy of passing Kelsey Plum (1,109 in 2016-17) for the most points in a season in Division I history.
• On pace to be the first player in Division I history to lead the nation in scoring in three different seasons (already done in 2020-21 and 2021-22).
— ESPN Stats & Information
Clark could reach even more scoring milestones this season. The AIAW large-school women’s record — set just before the NCAA era by Kansas‘ Lynette Woodard from 1977 to 1981 — is 3,649 points. The NCAA men’s record is 3,667 by LSU‘s Pete Maravich from 1967 to 1970, before freshman eligibility in college basketball.
There also is a chance the AIAW overall record — 3,884 points, set by Francis Marion’s Pearl Moore from 1975 to 1979 — could be in play for Clark, depending on how far Iowa advances in the postseason. Clark is currently averaging 32.8 points for the 23-3 Hawkeyes, who have four regular-season games left.
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 her 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 most sought-after tickets 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 rule changes regarding name, image and likeness have allowed Clark to appear in national advertising campaigns. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes complimented her game while talking to media in the lead-up to the Super Bowl. Golden State 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 — after whom Clark has modeled her game. “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 appeal 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 has 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, because of 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.
The Carver-Hawkeye crowd chanted, “One more year!” at the conclusion of Thursday’s game.
“I paid them,” Bluder joked. “I thought it was a pretty good chant.”
For now, Clark is focused on trying to win Big Ten regular-season and tournament championships for Iowa, and making a return trip to the Final Four. And with every additional point she scores, she will add to her own NCAA record.
Clark said that what made her the most emotional after the game was the congratulatory messages that were played on the arena’s video screen from her coaches, teammates and family.
“They’ve seen me go through some really hard losses and some really great wins,” Clark said of her parents and two brothers. “They’ve been there pushing me to be my very best and allowing me to dream ever since I was a young girl. I didn’t plan on crying tonight, but it got me a little bit.
“I’m so thankful every single day, because I’m playing in front of 15,000 people. I get to do it with my best friends. I get to play the game that I absolutely love more than anything.”