Caitlin Clark vs. Paige Bueckers in Ultimate 4: Iowa, UConn clashing once more with highlight on stars reversed

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By Calvin S. Nelson

Caitlin Clark and Paige Bueckers have been two of the nation’s high freshmen through the 2020-21 season, and now they’re standing within the path of one another’s first nationwide title. 

Iowa and UConn are dealing with one another in a must-watch Ultimate 4 battle on Friday. This can be Clark’s final likelihood to win a hoop on the school degree as a result of she has declared for the 2024 WNBA Draft. In the meantime, Bueckers will stick round for yet one more 12 months, however she is simply as hungry to win all of it after sitting out all of final season with a torn ACL. 

The star guards confronted one another as freshmen within the Candy 16 and gave us somewhat style of what we might count on from them in a while. Bueckers registered 18 factors, 9 rebounds and eight assists in a 92-72 victory. Though the Hawkeyes suffered a 20-point loss, Clark confirmed promise with 21 factors, three rebounds and 5 assists.

Whereas Clark had a standout freshman season, Bueckers turned the high participant within the nation whereas gathering a lot of the main awards, together with Participant of the 12 months. Though UConn misplaced within the 2021 Ultimate 4, Huskies followers have been assured the perfect was but to return for Bueckers.

Quick ahead three years, and right here the 2 are assembly one another once more — albeit below a lot completely different circumstances. Bueckers’ profession has been disrupted by accidents, whereas Clark skyrocketed into the highlight whereas turning into NCAA Division I basketball’s all-time main scorer

Listed here are three issues to contemplate forward of the Clark vs. Bueckers II. 

UConn a uncommon underdog

Sure, that sounds loopy to say a few Geno Auriemma crew, however realistically the Huskies’ journey to Cleveland was extra unbelievable than Iowa’s.

Accidents and inexperience throughout the roster have compelled the Huskies to make use of a seven-player rotation. But right here they’re, competing of their fifteenth Ultimate 4 within the final 16 NCAA Tournaments. The one Ultimate 4 they did miss over that unimaginable stretch was final 12 months, when Bueckers was out with a torn ACL. 

The Huskies’ lack of depth is what might doubtlessly harm them. UConn solely used six gamers in opposition to Duke, and the Huskies loved a 20-point lead within the third quarter. Nevertheless, they ultimately wanted to take a “breather,” resulting in Duke getting inside 5 factors with two minutes left within the sport. 

Iowa isn’t going to be a stroll within the park. The Hawkeyes would require the Huskies to dash all night time as a result of they wish to play at a quick tempo.

Being thought of an underdog, nonetheless, isn’t essentially a foul factor.

“The gamers at UConn right now have a novel alternative,” Auriemma mentioned forward of the event. ” … When nobody’s anticipating you to win it, that is somewhat little bit of a motivator in itself.”

Bueckers quietly returning to elite type 

Clark put the world on discover throughout final 12 months’s NCAA Event because the Hawkeyes made it to the title sport for the primary time in program historical past. She carried that momentum into this season as she as soon as once more led the nation in scoring and assists. 

Nevertheless, Bueckers can also be an excellent offensive participant as she’s the nation’s Eleventh-leading scorer at 22 factors per sport. And whereas Bueckers is not scoring on the similar quantity as Clark, the UConn star is doing so extra effectively. Bueckers has gone 310-for-561 (53.3%) from the sector this season whereas Clark has shot 386-for-840 (45.9%). 

The hazard with Clark is she will certainly take pictures — a lot of them — and it is laborious for groups to restrict her as a result of she has a excessive basketball IQ and is aware of the best way to create offense for others as properly. She additionally makes insane baskets, together with her signature ones from the brand. 

Bueckers has nice courtroom imaginative and prescient and also can make some highlight-worthy pictures. However her crew may gain advantage from her taking extra pictures. 

Whereas offense is Bueckers’ calling card, she’s probably the most well-rounded gamers within the nation as her protection has taken a giant soar this season. Bueckers has 86 steals this season, putting her within the high 25 nationally. Her type of play may not be as flashy as Clark’s, however her talent degree is as particular as ever regardless of sitting out all final season.

The battle goes past Clark vs. Bueckers

As gifted as Clark and Bueckers are, the reality is neither can win with out the assistance of their crew. UConn getting previous USC within the Elite Eight required 28 factors and 10 rebounds from Bueckers, but additionally 24 factors from Aaliyah Edwards and contributions among the many different rotation gamers. 

Edwards is a Picket Award All-American similar to Bueckers, averaging 17.6 factors and 9.3 rebounds per contest. Nika Muhl, in the meantime, is a troublesome defender and is second within the nation with 246 assists.

Freshman KK Arnold can also be growing properly with 8.8 factors per sport and has only one much less steal than Bueckers this season (85). Her energetic persona additionally provides her crew a spark of vitality.

As for the Hawkeyes, Hannah Stuelke and Kate Martin are the crew’s different double-digit scorers with 13.8 and 13.1 factors per sport, respectively. Nevertheless, Sydney Affolter — who’s had an elevated function since Molly Davis’ knee damage — appears to be peaking on the proper time as she has registered double-figure scoring efforts in six of her final seven video games. 

Iowa had an upset scare within the second spherical in opposition to West Virginia, when Clark went 8-for-22 from the sector. However the crew as an entire responded properly within the Candy 16 with a 21-point win over Colorado. Clark “solely” needed to register 29 factors in that sport as a result of all the opposite starters scored in double figures. 

Towards LSU, Clark put collectively a formidable stat line of 41 factors, 12 assists and 7 rebounds. However it is very important keep in mind that for the 12 assists to depend, her teammates needed to make buckets. Iowa will want that to occur once more to defeat UConn and advance to its second consecutive nationwide championship. 


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