2024 NCAA Women's Tournament: Caitlin Clark takes a literal early bop to the face, but Iowa prevails



IOWA CITY, Iowa — When Holy Cross guard Bronagh Power-Cassidy powered her way through the lane looking for position Saturday afternoon, there was a referendum coming on the state of women’s basketball.

OK, maybe that’s overstating things a bit — but not by much. In trying to find her way past Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, it looked like Power-Cassidy threw a hard left punch to the face of the face of the game.

So in that moment it wasn’t a question of whether it was a foul, it was how the violation would be treated considering who it was against. More than that, what would be the consequences if it wasn’t ruled intentional in front of the rabid Iowa fans?

“They would have been upset with that,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “That’s a pretty knowledgeable crowd. They know basketball.”

Fortunately, the officials in the first-round NCAA Tournament game diligently went to check the replay. In the interim, the Carver-Hawkeye Arena crowd screamed for some sort of retribution when the replay appeared on the scoreboard. It looked a lot worse than it was. Power-Cassidy’s elbow actually connected with Clark inadvertently.

“[Caitlin] got hit in the nose,” teammate Kate Martin said. “That doesn’t feel good let me tell you coming from me.”

It wasn’t exactly no-blood, no-foul as the action was eventually ruled intentional. (Flagrant fouls aren’t called in the women’s game.) The officials did the right thing as the best reason to watch the sport remained upright. The Franchise was — deep breath — OK.

And all was right with the Iowa world as the region’s top-seeded Hawkeyes kicked off their Final Four pursuit with what seemed like an easy 91-65 win over 16th-seeded Holy Cross.

Easy looking, maybe. But as in all things Iowa, the subtext quickly shifted to Clark who recovered enough to post her 19th double-double (27 points, 10 rebounds) of the season.

“She’s not going to be happy with her [42.1%] shooting,” Bluder said. “She’s not going to be happy with her [six] turnovers. For her, she’s going to say it’s kind of an ‘eh’ game, an average game by her standards. Anybody else would be pleased with a double-double, right?”

Right. But there is a reason Clark has become Iowa’s go-to player as well as Nike’s go-to marketing tool. She continues to lead the country in scoring this season and all-time after recently surpassing Pete Maravich. She is the dominant figure in the entire college game. Whatever she does is going to draw attention. There’s a reason ABC put the game on in the middle of the afternoon against the men’s tournament.

For the 32nd time in 34 games, the Hawkeyes played before a sellout crowd.

“I do think it transcends both genders,” said West Virginia coach Mark Kellogg whose Mountaineers defeated Princeton, 63-53, in the second first-round game. “I think it transcends both genders. When I say that I am talking men and women. I think she’s the biggest name in college basketball right now, men or women. I think all the eyes are on Caitlin Clark.”

All eyes may have been on Clark but she wasn’t, you know, on all the time against the Crusaders. Her 8-for-19 shooting day started as hitting only 2 of 11. With six turnovers, it was her 20th game of at least five turnovers. She had five of those in the first quarter, including four in the first 5½ minutes. And although such numbers are to be expected given how much she handles the ball, Saturday proved to be a referendum of a different kind for the Hawkeyes.

If Clark doesn’t totally click, neither does Iowa, now 30-4.

“I was standing there kind of in awe with what we were doing, consistently,” Holy Cross coach Maureen Magarity said of her team’s first-quarter defense against Clark. “It wasn’t just for the first minute or so.”

Iowa rebounded, sometimes literally. After leading 23-21 at the end of one quarter the Hawkeyes scored 68 points in the final 30 minutes. The number one scoring team in the country fell a couple of points short of its average. The No. 1 three-point shooting team (11.3 per game), settled for 10. In getting her own double-double (15 points, 14 rebounds) Martin fell at one point, with her head smacking the floor.

“I think that’s one of the best parts of this team,” Clark said. “We are always in a game no matter what situation we’re in. That just speaks to our offensive firepower.”

Iowa’s run to get back to the Final Four is just starting. Judging by Saturday, it isn’t going to be easy. By the end of the game the lasting image of the game was Power-Cassidy’s intentional foul. It had gone viral.

“It was totally unintentional,” Power-Cassidy said. “I would like to apologize. I was trying not to get too much contact.”

It was then revealed the Crusaders’ leading scorer had dropped 19 points on the nation’s No. 2-ranked team with a broken left (non-shooting) hand suffered in the Patriot League Championship Game.

“They weren’t intimidated at all,” Bluder said of Holy Cross.

The rest of the women’s bracket awaits.





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