Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese. They are rivals by default, Reese said: “Caitlin Clark and I don’t hate each other. I want people to understand that. This is just a super competitive game.” H

Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese, an unlikely partnership

Women's NCAA tournament - Caitlin Clark, Iowa cruise to Elite Eight and rematch with LSU

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There are 913 miles between Iowa City and Baton Rogue, 913 miles of differences between Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese. They are rivals by default. Last year’s national title game between Clark’s Iowa team and Reese’s LSU squad ensured that, and an impending rematch between the two is only fueling the fire.

They’ve been compared to Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, a notion Reese refutes, purely because of generational disconnect.

“I’m a little too young to have seen them,” Reese said.

But other people see the similarities.

“Whenever there are two players it’s, ‘Are you a Celtics fan with Bird? Or a Lakers fan with Magic?’” Iowa assistant Jan Jensen said. “[Caitlin and Angel] are both really, really good players. They’ve both shouldered a lot. But I think they’ve done it well.”










But there is one thing missing that separates Clark and Reese from Magic and Bird — a friendship. The latter two had a well-documented relationship that continues to this day. Rivalry turned to a bond that defined their careers.

Reese and Clark aren’t the same. And that’s OK. What they’re doing is impactful in its own way. They are changing the game of basketball, and they don’t have to be best friends or enemies to do it. On the court they battle, but off of it, there is a neutrality to the way they speak about each other.

“I don’t think people realize it’s not personal,” Reese said. “Me and Caitlin Clark don’t hate each other. I want everybody to understand that. It’s just a super competitive game.”

Clark understands.

The rivalry between Clark and Reese grew legs last year when LSU topped Iowa for the title, fueled by trash-talk and social media, but they’ve been competing for much longer than that.

LSU's Angel Reese (right) and Iowa's Caitlin Clark put on a show in last year's national title game. What wil they do on Monday when they face off the Elite Eight? (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)

LSU’s Angel Reese (right) and Iowa’s Caitlin Clark put on a show in last year’s national title game. What wil they do on Monday when they face off the Elite Eight? (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
The first meeting was in AAU, when Clark played for the Iowa Attack and Reese for Team Takeover. Then, they played in the Big Ten, with Clark at Iowa and Reese at Maryland. Those matchups had similar fire, but they were played on a smaller stage, with fewer eyes locked on their every move.

“Me and Angel have always been great competitors,” Clark said. “[But] It’s not just us in women’s basketball. That’s not the only competitive thing about where our game is at, and that’s what makes it so good. We need multiple people to be really good.”

There’s plenty of star power in women’s college basketball, from USC’s JuJu Watkins and Notre Dame’s Hannah Hidalgo to UConn’s Paige Bueckers and Syracuse’s Dyaisha Fair. But none of them have been linked together the way Reese and Clark have.

There will be eight other players on the court with them in Monday’s Elite Eight game, but conversations and coverage will center on the pair. Questions will swirl.

How will they play? How will they act? What will they say to each other?

“They’re both dynamic players,” Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said. “They’re both emotional. They’re both passionate about the game. They’re highly competitive. They’re both excellent at their craft. I think it’s just naturally going to happen that you talk about the two of them a lot.”

The biggest similarities between the two is what they want. Both Reese and Clark want to win their games while growing the game. They’ve been successful in those endeavors.

Both went to the national title game last season, with LSU taking the crown. Both have their respective fan bases clamoring for high-fives and autographs. And both have been the subject of conversation for the last year.

“That’s the story,” said Jennifer Roberts, LSU’s director of player personnel and influence. “People want to see Angel and Caitlin. Nobody wants them to be best friends. Angel is going to do her thing and Caitlin is going to do her thing. And I don’t just mean the way they play. I mean the antics. That’s what sells tickets.”

Last year’s title game garnered 9.9 million viewers, making it the most-watched NCAA women’s basketball game in history. Monday’s Elite Eight matchup is also sure to break records.

“A lot of people absolutely love Angel, and a lot of people absolutely love me,” Clark said of their respective fan bases.

But they don’t love each other. And they don’t hate each other, either. Without meaning to, they’ve formed a kind of partnership in growing the game. They don’t have to be friends, or enemies, to do it.

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