They were not just teammates on a variety of U.S. national basketball teams, but sometime roommates. The admiration and affection between Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith is real, and runs deep.

They were not just teammates on a variety of U.S. national basketball teams, but sometime roommates. The admiration and affection between Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith is real, and runs deep.

Hailey Van Lith laughs at 'dumb' media over Caitlin Clark misread

“Great person off the court, really funny, great sense of humor,’’ Van Lith said Saturday while describing Clark. “I mean, I have supported her through her college career and she’s supported me through mine.”

But that doesn’t mean each didn’t want to bury the other one Sunday in an NCAA women’s regional game at Climate Pledge Arena, with a berth in the Final Four on the line. And so for 40 minutes, Iowa and Louisville waged a frenetic, intense and passionate battle, with those two inevitably at the forefront — and Iowa getting the ultimate celebration behind an epic performance by Clark.

It was a basketball purist’s dream — but this matchup might have been even more alluring to a casual fan who just loves to see fun, high-scoring basketball at the highest level, spiced by an individual performance that will go instantly into the annals of tournament lore. Caitlin Clark’s 41-point triple-double sends Iowa women to Final Four A week ago, we had Trout vs. Ohtani.

Louisville star Hailey Van Lith gets candid about motivation: 'God doesn't  think I'm an honorable mention' | Fox News

For women’s basketball fans, Clark vs. Van Lith had similar resonance. And it was Clark and the Hawkeyes who came out on top 97-83 as the junior put on a dazzling display of her all-around game. Clark not only turned in a triple-double, the 12th of her career, but the first one in NCAA women’s tournament history with at least 30 points — and for good measure she finished with 41 points to go with 12 assists and 10 rebounds.

No men’s or women’s player in the NCAA tournament has ever had a 40-point game in a triple-double. The only player with 30 points and 10 assists in an NCAA tournament game since 2000 is Washington’s Kelsey Plum (2017), whose all-time scoring record Clark is on target to surpass. After the clock hit zero, Clark made it a point to hunt down the game ball to save for posterity. “I did want the game ball, so I chucked it to my dad. I hope they get out of the arena,’’ she said with a laugh.

Iowa's Caitlin Clark vs Louisville's Hailey Van Lith: A showdown for the  Final Four - The Athletic

“I told them to run; I’ll get it later at the hotel.” Iowa, which lives off its transition game, broke it open in the second half with a flurry of fast breaks and dazzling three-point shooting — and not just by Clark. By the fourth quarter, the only mysteries were whether Clark would get her triple-double, would she hit 40, and would the Hawkeyes crack triple-digits. Answers: Yes (getting her 10th rebound in the final minute); yes, on two free throws with 27 seconds remaining that Clark punctuated with an ecstatic fist pump; and no, not quite, but Iowa could care less as it advanced to its first Final Four since 1993.

“I don’t know if it’s really sunk in yet,’’ said Iowa coach Lisa Bluder, wearing remnants of the cut-down net around her neck. “This group is amazing. To do things you love with people you love, it doesn’t get any better than that.” “About only people who believed were me and Coach when I first committed to her,” Clark added. “A lot of people told me it would never happen when I came to Iowa. She believed in me, which is all that really mattered, and we made the locker room believe.”

Iowa's Caitlin Clark wins AP Player of the Year - NBC Sports

Van Lith, with her large cheering section from Cashmere back on hand, finished with 27 points, but her Cardinals were no match for the offensive precision of Iowa. And, especially, they had no answers for Clark, who was feeling it from the beginning and didn’t slow down until Bluder pulled her out in the final seconds to honor her star with an ovation from the fans — and a long, heartfelt hug between the two.

Simply put, Clark is a revelation. She has the capacity to become the face of women’s college basketball, if she isn’t already. She might be the best show in college basketball, men’s or women’s. Think Pistol Pete Maravich crossed with Sue Bird (who made a surprise appearance at Iowa’s shoot-around) with a dash of Steph Curry.

Who is Louisville's Hailey Van Lith? | The US Sun

Next in line for Iowa is a likely Final Four matchup in Dallas with South Carolina, which has surpassed Connecticut as the dominant force in the women’s game. But if Iowa plays at the same pace, with the same efficiency, toughness, and outside shooting touch as it did Sunday, it won’t be a given that the unbeaten Gamecocks run their record to 37-0 (provided they get past Maryland on Monday).

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