Even Caitlin Clark couldn’t stop LSU’s offensive juggernaut in the March Madness finale.
The Tigers won the first championship in program history with a brilliant offensive performance, beating Iowa 102-85 in the NCAA Tournament women’s title game on Sunday.
Jasmine Carson scored 22 points off the bench — including 21 points in a first-half blitz that featured five 3-pointers — Alexis Morris added 21 and the Tigers shot 54% from the field.
Iowa’s Clark, who was named The Associated Press women’s basketball Player of the Year, had 30 points and eight assists to wrap up a stellar season, but it wasn’t enough to lead the Hawkeyes to the first title. Clark set an NCAA Tournament record with 191 points over six games, topping the record set by Sheryl Swoopes in 1993.
LSU’s Kim Mulkey won the fourth title of her coaching career and became the first to win a title at two schools. The flamboyant coach won three championships during 21 seasons at Baylor before returning to her home state.
Clark scored 41 points to lead the Hawkeyes over previously undefeated South Carolina 77-73 in the national semifinals on Friday night. The loss denied South Carolina — the No. 1 team all season — a chance at a second straight title. LSU topped Virginia Tech on Friday and then saved arguably its best game of the season for the finale.
Clark had the first 40-point triple-double in NCAA Tournament history to lead Iowa to its first Final Four appearance in 30 years. She followed that with 41 points in the semifinals in a performance that somehow managed to live up to the ample hype.
Her postseason stats caught the attention of NBA stars. Kevin Durant and Chris Paul were talking about Clark’s performance in the locker room following the Phoenix Suns’ win over the Denver Nuggets on Friday.
“Incredible run that she’s on,” Durant said. “She’s playing phenomenal basketball, her team is rallying around her.”
The tournament featured a couple of big upsets of top seeds. In the second round, No. 8 seed Mississippi knocked off No. 1 Stanford and No. 9 Miami toppled No. 1 Indiana. Miami made it to the Elite Eight before losing to LSU.
Also, UConn’s incredible streak of 14 straight Final Fours ended this season after Ohio State beat the Huskies in the Sweet 16.
Clark’s huge tournament and the other big storylines meant plenty of fan interest. The women’s Final Four secondary ticket market actually outpaced that of the men’s tournament.
Indiana’s Teri Moren was honored as the AP women’s basketball Coach of the Year after leading the school to its first Big Ten regular-season championship in 40 years and its first No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Clark won AP Player of the Year after one of the greatest individual seasons in NCAA history. She put up eye-popping offensive numbers, averaging 27.0 points, 8.3 assists and 7.5 rebounds during the regular season to help Iowa go 26-6. Clark received 20 votes from the 28-member national media panel that votes on the AP Top 25 each week.
Gun violence has cost lives and disrupted college sports all season, touching some of the top programs in college basketball. Coaches have been thrust into uncertain and unwelcome roles in trying to navigate the topic — as well as the fallout from the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
On a lighter note, the women’s tournament has been making a case for its own separate TV deal, and if you think you know the women’s tournament, try this 25-question quiz.
Want to hear from the athletes themselves? UCLA freshman Kiki Rice and injured UConn star Paige Bueckers each have written diaries for the AP about their “tourney journeys.”
Also, the title game was on a national network — ABC — for the first time since 1996.
AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
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