IOWA CITY — Kaitlyn Clark took the enforcer pass in perfect stride, her bright green kicks lighting up unprecedented stardom for those sitting near and far from Sunday’s events. Everyone crammed inside Kinnick Stadium knew what was coming next.
Two drops, then a loud sound, then a sound.
A women’s basketball record for a single game of 55,646 fans erupted in unison as Clarke’s first triple of the day took home, one of countless memorable scenes from Sunday’s crossover Kinnick affair. Clark eventually notched a proper triple-double, reeling off Iowa’s 94-72 scrimmage win over DePaul to start this national championship debut.
“She’s a very exciting player,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said, still beaming with admiration in the postgame news conference. “What can’t she do? She has a triple-double out there on a football field. She’s special.”
In her first game on the court since falling to LSU in the NCAA final in Dallas, Clark shrugged off any unusual weather elements to deliver a performance that had become routine. Noticeable winds generally made three-pointers difficult, so Clark chopped up DePaul with drives and midranges the same way she has many other foes. She finished with 34 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists while shooting 13-for-26 from the field.
The first exciting 3-pointer didn’t arrive until less than six minutes into the second quarter, yet Clark was already on her way to a surefire day before then. She added involvement to the scoring as well, as many of her assists went to wide-open posts under the basket.
Listico:A memorable day for women’s basketball at Kinnick Arena
“She has these moments where she knows it’s going to light a fire underneath her,” said Gabby Marshall, a fifth-year student. “You knew she was about to explode and go crazy. The audience knew it. We knew it. It was loud. It was definitely loud.”
“It’s nothing new. She does it all the time.”
And don’t tell Clark this game wasn’t in mind. The fouls she made — six turnovers and five missed free throws — put frustration on a face that had no sense of display. You would expect nothing less from the best performer in the sport.
“It’s hard to take in everything that’s going on,” Clark said. “You can imagine it, but it’s never the same until you actually experience it – enjoy it and live it.
“Our team was kind of giddy getting ready to go into the tunnel. We realize this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Elsewhere on the court, Iowa State had strong efforts from reserves Sharon Goodman, Addison O’Grady (10 points, 14 rebounds) and Molly Davis (13 points) — three pivotal pieces outside the main group of Clark, Marshall and Kate Martin who will be playing. You have a big hand in where this Iowa team goes. The Hawkeyes went 10 deep in the first quarter and will likely use some of the early part of the season to bolster their rotation moving forward.
“Given the way we played against DePaul, I don’t think it will be the same team in March or anything,” said Martin, the sixth-year guard, who added 11 points and eight rebounds. “It’s a great starting point, and I’m glad we got the win in front of all these fans. We treated it like a real game, and it’s exciting to start the basketball season.”
One way or another, it always comes back to Clark. Even with the Hawkeyes’ second-half cushion never dipping below double digits, they played deep in the fourth quarter to ensure nothing unconventional happened. DePaul’s only drive — a 15-0 run to start the fourth quarter cut the deficit from 26 to 11 — Clark ended any loose concern with a fastball layup and an assist for Marshall’s only triple of the day.
Ahead of a season that will be filled with noisy environments and pressure-filled situations, Sunday’s big event was the perfect preparatory phase for Clarke and her teammates.
“Just a special experience,” Clark said. “The number of people screaming for us takes your breath away for a moment.”
Dargan Southard is a sports reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at ms[email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.
“Devoted travel trailblazer. Freelance beer scholar. Passionate analyst. Hardcore twitter fanatic.”