Hawkeyes’ Clark is on mark from prodigious 3-point distances
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Every time Iowa’s Caitlin Clark crosses halfcourt, fans in the stands and the opposing team hold their collective breath.
She just might shoot. And for a player whose range seems to have no bounds, it could be from almost anywhere.
The national player of the year candidate is supremely gifted in all phases of offense, but it’s her penchant for putting up deep 3s that makes her a must-see attraction.
“Quite honestly, everywhere we go, we have unbelievable crowds,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “They want to see our team play. They want to see Caitlin play.”
The 3-point arc is 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches from the basket. Of the 83 shots Clark has made from 3-point range, 66 were launched from at least 24 feet, according to Synergy Basketball data provided by Iowa.
“She’s a pleasure to watch play, unless you’re scouting her or going against her,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said.
Two of Clark’s four makes were from 29 feet in the seventh-ranked Hawkeyes’ 91-61 win over Wisconsin on Wednesday, and she’s hit three from 30 this season.
Clark’s average of 26 feet for made 3s entering the Wisconsin game led the nation. Her sweet spot this season is in the 24-25 foot range, where she has made 37.
“Sometimes she’s more open from 30 feet than she is from 20 feet,” Bluder said earlier this season.
That’s why Clark always had a shadow waiting for her when she reached halfcourt Wednesday. Her defensive escort varied. The objective was to keep Clark from shooting, and making, what Wisconsin coach Marisa Moseley called “logo 3s.”
It worked, to a point. Clark had 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting, but the stretched defense allowed her to record eight assists and help the Hawkeyes score 48 points in the paint.
Clark, whose 27.2-point scoring average ranks second in the nation, went into the game putting up almost 19 shots per game. She was content with her reduced attempts against the Badgers.
“I just kind of took what they gave me tonight,” she said. “There was no reason to force anything down their throat. I just set my teammates up.”
Iowa has won its last two games by a combined 84 points, so there hasn’t been a need for Clark to go off. She had a combined six 3-pointers in the wins over Rutgers and Wisconsin but had 18 assists.
“I think that’s kind of been the focus for me the last two games, helping my teammates see the ball go through the hoop,” Clark said. “Probably in a normal game, when it’s a little bit closer and I’m playing more than 28 minutes, I might take a few more shots.”
Sometimes Clark’s willingness to shoot from far away borders on the ridiculous. She’s tried five 3s of 31 feet or longer and missed them all, including two from 35. Halfcourt is 47 feet.
Bluder sometimes throws up her hands in frustration if Clark shoots too early in the shot clock or misses one from too deep. But defenses must honor Clark’s range, which is why Moseley had guards Sania Copeland or Maty Wilke waiting to pick her up at halfcourt.
“She’s shown she can hit ‘logo 3s’ and all that,” Moseley said. “One of the things we’ve talked about was we knew she was going to get her points, but she was going to have to earn them.”
Clark had six 3s and 42 points in a 96-82 win over Maryland on Feb. 2, finding ways to get away from the Terrapins’ defense and taking shots that Bluder admiringly called “crazy.”
“You’ve got to stay in touch with that girl,” Maryland guard Shyanne Sellers said. “She’s capable of going off for 40, just like she did.”
Clark is fifth in the Big Ten in 3-point accuracy at 37.7%, up from 33.3% last season, and her career average of 3.3 made 3s per game ranks second nationally among active players behind the 3.59 by Oklahoma’s Taylor Robertson.
With Clark, the 2022 Big Ten player of the year and first-team All-American, it’s about the show.
Her long 3s are usually punctuated with a gesture, or a shrug of the shoulders, and the show has drawn big numbers. Iowa is third in the nation behind South Carolina and Connecticut with average attendance of 10,450. Last week’s game at Big Ten leader Indiana drew 13,046 fans.
Showing passion is something Clark enjoys.
“I think when I play with that smile, that joy, and I’m setting my teammates up for success, that makes us all the better,” she said.
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