Iowa39s Caitlin Clark breaks NCAA women39s scoring record

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

  • Iowa39s Caitlin Clark breaks NCAA women39s scoring record.png&h=80&w=80&scale=crop

    Michael Voepel, February 15, 2024, 8:08 p.m. ET


      Michael Voepel covers the WNBA, women's college basketball and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women's basketball in 1984 and has been with ESPN since 1996.

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Caitlin Clark has filled arenas all season long, and the packed house here got to see her home state hero make sports history on Thursday. The Iowa Hawkeyes guard broke the NCAA women's basketball career scoring record and wowed the crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

And she did it as quickly as possible.

Clark entered Iowa's No. 4 game against Michigan with 3,520 points, needing eight to break the mark set by Washington's Kelsey Plum (3,527) from 2013 to 2017.

Clark got the ball from the first tip and hit a layup. Then she hit a three-pointer from her favorite spot on the court, the left side. Another 3-pointer from the same side caused chaos. It took her 2 minutes and 12 seconds to become the record holder.

Both Clark and Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder had said early in the game that they didn't expect a stoppage in play when the score came. But Iowa called a timeout and Clark's teammates gathered with her on the court in a joyful group hug. Clark's broad smile told the story of the evening: Chasing a record that she said had never felt like a burden was now her reason to celebrate.

“It's cool. It’s cool to be on a level playing field with a lot of really, really good players,” Clark said in a television interview at halftime. “I’m lucky to do this because I have really good teammates and really good coaches and a great support system surrounding me.”

However, she wasn't done yet after breaking the record. Clark went 8 of 10 from the field — 5 of 7 from 3-point range — in the first quarter and scored 23 points. It was the most points she has scored in a first quarter of her Iowa career and the second most of any quarter. She had 25 in the fourth quarter of a loss to Michigan on February 6, 2022.

“Just grateful. Grateful to be surrounded by people and to be in a city that supports women’s basketball so much,” Clark said. “Be surrounded by my best friends and people who want to see me great and push me to be great every day.”

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Clark could reach even more milestones in her senior season. The AIAW major school women's record, set just before the NCAA era by Lynette Woodard of Kansas from 1977 to 1981, is 3,649 points. The NCAA men's record is 3,667 set by LSU's Pete Maravich from 1967 to 1970, before he was eligible to play college basketball as a freshman.

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

“My favorite athletes are those who are champions in sports and 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, not just women's basketball – and with that comes a great responsibility to be a leader on and off the court. She understands it, and that is one of the reasons why she will have the chance to be among the best in her sport and be a role model for future generations.”

There's a lot on the 22-year-old's shoulders, but Clark looks like she's having the time of her life. She plays with the same passion, confidence and zest for life that she first brought to the court as a freshman in 2020, when games were mostly played in nearly empty arenas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The “Caitlin Clark Show” is now one of the toughest tickets in sports. Fans of all ages chant her name and wear her number 22 jersey. Parents drive hundreds of miles with their children to watch Clark. The police accompany you to and from the arena and on and off the field on match days.

Changes in NCAA rules regarding name, image and likeness have allowed Clark to appear in national advertising campaigns. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes praised their play while speaking to the media ahead of the Super Bowl. Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, widely considered the best shooter in NBA history, praised Clark's shooting form and poise.

“Caitlin is special,” said Curry, one of the players — along with WNBA players Sue Bird, Maya Moore, Plum and Sabrina Ionescu — after whom Clark modeled her game. “The balance sheet speaks for itself, and it’s cool. From a scoring perspective, from a shooting perspective, just doing what she does – she could pick anyone she talks about as an inspiration. If she models some 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 total package,” Lobo said. “She plays the game in a way we’ve never seen a woman play before. We’ve never seen anyone fire so many shots from so far away and then hit them like that.” [a high percentage].

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

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

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

“You need superstars in sports,” Olympic and women’s soccer world champion Julie Foudy told ESPN. “Mia [Hamm] was our superstar. She was shy and introverted. Caitlin seems more comfortable with all the attention.

“But Mia then, like Caitlin now, also recognized the meaning and importance of her popularity. The value of it, not just individually but collectively, and how so many other women could benefit from her fame.”

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

For now, her focus is on winning Big Ten regular season and tournament championships for Iowa and returning to the Women's Final Four. And with every additional point she scores, she increases her own NCAA record.

Regardless of whether Clark goes to the WNBA this year or stays at Iowa for another season, Lobo believes she will keep the momentum going to increase the sport's popularity.

“Caitlin kept a cool head and good balance. She has a magnetic personality,” Lobo said. “There’s just a lot of things that a lot of different people identify with and love about the way they play.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.