The Iowa Hawkeyes' dreams of a first-ever national championship in women's basketball were dashed on Sunday afternoon by the LSU Tigers, who used a hot-shooting first half to seize control and set an Women's NCAA Tournament record for points in a championship game in their 102-85 victory.
Caitlin Clark's thrilling and historic tournament came to a close in defeat, but not before she added another 30 points and eight assists in a valiant effort. In the process, she set a number of tournament and championship game records, which will forever immortalize her incredible run over the past few weeks.
"It certainly helps breaking a record, you know, when you get to play the maximum amount of games in a season," Clark said. "And that's what I'm proud of is this group, you know, we got to play the entire time.
"I think that's what bums me out the most about this is, you know, I knew there was this last 40 minutes together and I was just trying to cherish it. And yeah, I'm sad that we lost, don't get me wrong, but I'm more sad that I don't get to come back to practice with my best friends tomorrow."
With the 2023 Women's NCAA Tournament now officially in the books, here's a look back at Clark's historic effort by the numbers:
Clark was a scoring machine all season long, but she elevated her game in the past few weeks to get the Hawkeyes to their first-ever national title game. She dropped multiple 40-point games, and averaged 31.8 per game for the tournament. Her 191 total points set a new record for a player in a single NCAA Tournament -- men's or women's.
The previous women's record was held by Sheryl Swoopes, who scored 177 total points for Texas Tech in 1993 as she led them to the school's only national championship. In the men's tournament, the record belongs to Glen Rice, who scored 184 points for Michigan to carry them to what was also their only national championship in 1989.
While Clark's scoring received most of the attention, and for good reason, she's also a dynamic playmaker. If you send multiple defenders to force the ball out of her hands, or fall asleep for a split-second on the weak side, she's willing and able to find her teammates.
Clark's eight assists in the title game on Sunday took her to 60 for the tournament and an even 10 per game average. The 60 total assists set a new record for a player in single women's tournament. She fell just shy of Mark Wade's 61 assists for UNLV in 1987, which is the men's mark.
In the Elite Eight, Clark and Iowa squared off with Hailey Van Lith and Louisville in what was an intense and competitive game until the Hawkeyes broke things open in the third. They did so thanks to a Clark-led surge; the star scored or assisted on 16 of their 30 points in the frame.
That was the tale of the entire game, as Clark finished with 41 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists to record her fifth triple-double of the season and 11th of her career. In doing so, she became.
"Are you kidding?" Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said of Clark's performance. "It's mind boggling,"
Clark's 41-point triple-double against Louisville sent Iowa to the Final Four and set up a much-anticipated showdown with South Carolina, the undefeated reigning national champs. In order for the Hawkeyes to score the upset, they needed Clark to have another historic outing, and she did just that.
She delivered not only the best performance of her career, but one of the best by any player ever in the tournament to lead Iowa to a dramatic 77-73 win. Even the Gamecocks' elite defense couldn't slow her down, as. Her 41 points were the most ever in a tournament semifinal, and she became the first player in tournament history with back-to-back 40-point games.
"I think she's the most phenomenal basketball player in America," Bluder said. "I just don't think there's anybody like her. In so many regards, not only scoring, but passing the ball, handling the ball. She had the ball in her hands almost all the time tonight against some pretty good defensive players.
"And then it's her mentality. I think that's what's so special. She believes in herself. She believes in her teammates. She's so confident, but she's put the work in to deserve to have that confidence."
Iowa has been an elite 3-point shooting team all season long thanks to Clark's own shotmaking and her passing. They leaned heavily into that approach on Sunday in the championship game, and shot the ball extremely well (14-of-30). It was not enough, however, as LSU surprised everyone by hitting 11 3s of their own (more than double their season average).
While Clark obvoiusly would have wanted the win more than another record, she did etch her name on yet another page in the history books by hitting eight triples of her own. That was the most 3s anyone -- men or women -- has ever hit in a tournament championship game.