Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark doesn’t need Jay Williams or Pistol Pete Maravich to define her greatness

Caitlin Clark
(Getty Images)

The capacity crowd assembled Thursday night in the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall were there to see greatness. Some of them came to see it manifested, and some to see it vanquished, but there was no doubting Caitlin Clark’s arrival on the court in one of college basketball’s cathedrals would deliver one or the other.

It had been less than a week since ESPN analyst Jay Williams declared, during an ESPN College Gameday broadcast, that Clark fell short of the standard for this category because she had not won an NCAA championship. It was a baffling assertion, but one he chose to reiterate while serving as the game analyst on the men’s game Wednesday between Kentucky and LSU.

He is wrong, but at least he’s consistently wrong.

In pursuit of still more records and huge, round numbers, Clark presented less than her customary dose of brilliance in an 86-69 loss at Indiana. She was one assist short of a 16th career triple-double, and still this quite obviously was less than her best. She shot 8-of-26 from the field, 3-of-16 on threes. When you can fall one digit short of a triple-double and leave viewers well aware things could have been better, the issue isn’t whether you’re great, but how great you are.

“I think we made everything very difficult for Caitlin Clark tonight and that’s hard to do,” Indiana coach Teri Moren told reporters. “She’s a phenomenal player.”

DECOURCY: Some of women’s hoops greats not embracing Caitlin Clark’s greatness

Clark and the Hawkeyes had plenty of time to prepare for IU after the commotion that surrounded Clark passing Kelsey Plum’s NCAA Division I women’s basketball career scoring record – and doing it on one of her uncanny, logo-distance 3-point shots – but none arrived in Indiana ready to deliver a peak performance.

With 24 points, Clark fell well below her nation-leading average. She did advance, though, to just a few jumpers away from the 3,600-point mark. Beyond that milestone there still is another significant record out there worthy of her pursuit.

And, no, it has nothing to do with anyone named Maravich.

As Rachel Bachman of the Wall Street Journal astutely informed us a couple weeks back, the top career scorer in major-college women’s basketball actually is Hall of Famer Lynette Woodard of Kansas, who had accumulated 3,649 points upon completing her career at Kansas in 1981.

However, Woodard competed at a time when, even after the passage of Title IX had led high schools and colleges across the nation to initiate women’s sports programs where few had existed, the old NCAA disgracefully refused to incorporate those sports into the operation. The Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) filled the vacuum from 1971 to 1983, until the NCAA relented and began sponsoring women’s championships.

And though there have been many gifted people working in the NCAA’s statistics department in the decades since, there has been no apparent effort made to incorporate AIAW accomplishments into the NCAA universe. So the numbers achieved by legends such as Lusia Harris, Marianne Crawford and Nancy Lieberman are not considered when a Plum or Clark begins accumulating outlandish stats.

MORE: Inside Caitlin Clark’s NIL numbers

There is a logic to Woodard’s record as target that does not exist relative to the strain to bring Pete Maravich into the conversation, which feels manufactured to serve the idea that women’s sports accomplishments only matter relative to what is achieved in men’s sports.

It was similar when the great Tara VanDerveer won her 1,203rd game as Stanford coach, which was one more than Mike Krzyzewski had recorded as men’s coach at Duke. Like it wasn’t already enough she had won more games than anyone in the women’s game, including such coaching superstars as Pat Summit and Geno Auriemma.

Clark doesn’t need Maravich for amplification. What she’s accomplishing stands on its own, and soon will stand entirely apart from any other woman who has played major-college basketball.

About all Maravich adds to this conversation is a reminder today’s generation of sports journalists is not nearly as creative with nicknames as those that came up with the Four Horsemen, the Galloping Ghost or, to the point, Pistol Pete.

No one’s gotten Caitlin Clark just right on that account. Perhaps it’s we’ve had so few athletic superstars named Caitlin that a nickname seems unnecessary. Or that it’s just not how we do things now.

Caitlin Clark

(Getty Images)

We will be doing things better, regardless, if we focus on Clark closing in on Woodard’s numbers, as well as the lapsing regular-season schedule reminding us the Hawkeyes soon will launch their attempts at consecutive Big Ten Tournament titles and Final Four appearances. All of Iowa’s players will need to be better than they were against Indiana for any of that to be possible.

Unlike some, Clark did not join an established power in her sport when she chose four years ago to stay close to home and play for the Hawkeyes. They have been a regular NCAA Tournament participant under Lisa Bluder, but last year’s Final Four was the first for the program in 30 years. Iowa did not make just a ceremonial appearance; they upset undefeated South Carolina in the national semifinals to reach the championship game.

Clark had 41 points and 8 assists that night.

What would have a great player done?

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