When Caitlin Clark stepped on Iowa’s campus in 2020, the West Des Moines native was already a household name in the state. Fast forward to 2023, and the 6-0 junior guard is in a class by herself. 2023 is Caitlin Clark’s year.
Clark is expected to sweep every single National Player of the Year award. She will get a chance to put her team closer to the national championship when the No. 2-seeded Hawkeyes (No. 3 in the AP poll) face No. 6 seed Colorado in the Sweet 16. Friday’s game tips off at 7:30 p.m. ET in Seattle.
Sweet 16 on tap for the Hawkeyes
Major Iowa sports betting operators offer the women’s NCAA tournament games, so fans will be able to place bets on the Sweet 16 for their favorite teams. With Clark’s play garnering headlines in major publications, the game should be a highly anticipated matchup.
Friday’s March Madness game will be televised on ESPN, giving it maximum exposure on the network’s premium channel. It will be the seventh meeting between the Hawkeyes and Buffs. The all-time series is tied 3-3. The last time Colorado reached the Sweet 16 was in 2003.
Clark’s rise to stardom came quickly
Clark scored 27 points, pulled down eight rebounds, and dished out four assists in her collegiate debut back in November 2020.
After that impressive outing, head coach Lisa Bluder concluded, “she is what we expected.”
Pro players, including NBA stars, began noticing her name and praising her game. Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry, the NBA’s all-time leader in three-point shots, told ESPN: “No shot is a bad shot when you can shoot it as well as she can.”
The legendary Nancy Lieberman says Clark is the active guard who reminds her of herself. The Iowa phenom is a finalist for this season’s award named after the Hall of Famer and given to the best point guard in the nation.
Caitlin Clark’s extraordinary trajectory
What makes Caitlin Clark so unique? Why does she garner so much interest from die-hard fans, newcomers, and sports bettors?
The list of her accolades and on-court accomplishments could fill pages. Here are some nuggets about her path to national stardom and why she has become the face of women’s basketball in Iowa and a role model to younger players, regardless of gender, across the country.
Clark was named Big Ten Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, becoming the first player to do so since 2009-10. She averages 27.8 points, 8.5 assists, and 7.3 rebounds per game with an 83.5% free throw percentage.
Clark has ten career triple-doubles, a Big Ten record. She is in a tie for second-best in NCAA women’s basketball history. This season, she set the individual record for Big Ten assists per season with 291.
Led by Clark, Iowa is No. 1 in the nation in scoring offense at 87.4 points per game and also leads in assists per game at 21.2. If Iowa moves on to the Final Four and possibly beyond, she could break the conference’s single-season scoring record (1,001). She is only two points shy of moving into second place at 912.
Iowa women’s basketball’s audience continues to grow
What do all these numbers translate to? In short, more fans of women’s basketball, more people following her on social media, more exposure in media, more visibility due to lucrative NIL deals and, finally, more fans placing bets on Iowa games. In fact, her presence has led to record attendance numbers for Iowa and the Big Ten in general.
When Iowa won its second straight Big Ten Tournament title (fifth overall) over fourth-seeded Indiana in the championship game, a record-setting crowd of 9,505 showed up. It was the largest turnout for any game in the conference tournament in its 30-year history. Overall, this season’s tournament attracted 47,923 fans, which broke a record set in 2022.
According to Iowa Athletics, the team has unofficially broken the Big Ten Conference single-season average attendance record with 11,143 fans per game this season. That figure includes two sellouts, one of which was Iowa’s first round NCAA tournament game. That day, the capacity of the arena was expanded to 14,382.
TV viewers also tuned in, giving the tournament the largest broadcast audience ever for a championship game. Nearly 12 million viewers watched Big Ten women’s basketball for the 2022-23 regular season. No doubt, Clark was a factor in those rising numbers.
Given all of these statistics, it will be no surprise to see a record number of bets placed on women’s games during the Sweet 16.
Bluder sums up Clark the best:
“Caitlin is a premier guard that has an incredible offensive skill set. She has the ability to score at will, while also being an uncanny passer in feeding her teammates the ball. She is an exciting playmaker in all realms.”