Caitlin Clark’s 2nd-half surge leads Iowa past UConn in Final Four with aid of late controversial call

A stifling UConn defense held Caitlin Clark and Iowa to their worst first half of the season. 

It wasn’t enough. 

The Hawkeyes found their footing in the third quarter and then battled through the fourth to rally past the Huskies for a 71-69 win to secure a trip to the national championship game. 

Iowa fought back to take control and held a three-possession lead late in the fourth quarter. But victory wasn’t in hand until a late UConn turnover on a controversial offensive foul.

Last-minute controversy

The Huskies had a chance to take a go-ahead shot in the final 10 seconds after forcing a late turnover. But officials whistled Aaliyah Edwards for an illegal screen with 3.9 seconds remaining, giving Iowa possession of the ball with a 70-69 lead, setting up a frantic final few seconds.

Aaliyah Edwards was called for an offensive foul on this possession. pic.twitter.com/1INxb2YHE2

— ESPN (@espn) April 6, 2024

After the turnover, UConn fouled Clark with 3.1 seconds remaining, putting the 86% free-throw shooter on the line with a chance to extend Iowa’s lead to three. She made the first, but missed the second. 

Then Iowa’s Sydney Affolter secured the rebound. UConn forced a jump ball immediately after the rebound, but the possession arrow pointed toward Iowa with 1.1 seconds remaining on the clock. 

On the ensuing inbounds play, Clark intentionally bounced the ball off the back of UConn’s Paige Bueckers. It then rolled out of bounds with 0.8 seconds left on the clock, and the game was effectively over. 

Caitlin Clark inbounds the ball off of Paige Bueckers. #FinalFourpic.twitter.com/4gxrOrn5EO

— The Comeback (@thecomeback) April 6, 2024

Clark’s next inbounds pass went to Kate Martin, who immediately threw the ball in the air in triumph as the final buzzer sounded.

After failing to hit a 3-pointer in a six-point first half, Clark finished with 21 points to help led Iowa to victory. 

The win sets up a showdown with 37-0 South Carolina, which defeated NC State in Friday’s other national semifinal to secure its spot in the title game. There, the Gamecocks will look to avenge last season’s Final Four loss to Iowa that thwarted their 2023 effort at a perfect season.

Ugly first half puts Iowa in a hole

Things looked bad for the Hawkeyes at halftime. Nika Muhl shadowed Clark to lead a concerted UConn defensive effort that forced Clark into spots where she wasn’t comfortable. The result was the worst half of Iowa’s season and the worst for Clark in a long time by several measures.

The 26-point tally was the lowest of the season for an Iowa team that leads the nation with 91.9 points per game. A team that averages 13.9 turnovers per game gave the ball away 12 times before halftime.

For Clark, it marked the first NCAA tournament game in her career where she didn’t hit a 3 in the first half. She finished the half with six points in an 0-for-6 3-point effort that put her 47-game streak with 20 points or more in jeopardy.

But UConn’s 32-26 halftime lead stood at just two possessions despite the defensive effort. It wouldn’t withstand a second-half Iowa surge. 

Clark wakes up after halftime

After six first-half misses, Clark hit her first 3 of the game with 8:09 remaining in the third quarter to cut UConn’s lead to 36-34.

22 FOR THREEE 🔥#WFinalFour x 🎥 ESPN / @IowaWBBpic.twitter.com/8tubraR9UM

— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessWBB) April 6, 2024

Another 3 plus a foul with 3:49 left in the quarter set up a four-point play to cut UConn’s lead to 44-43.

😤 @CaitlinClark22 is heatin’ up 🔥#WFinalFour x 🎥 ESPN / @IowaWBBpic.twitter.com/vIcIio1X4M

— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessWBB) April 6, 2024

With 2:34 left in the quarter, Hannah Stuelke hit two free throws to give Iowa its first lead since the opening minute of the game at 47-45. The foul on UConn’s KK Arnold was her fourth of the game. Iowa and UConn went into the fourth quarter tied at 51.

UConn pressure sets off frantic final seconds

After trailing by 12 in the first half, Iowa extended its lead to as much a 66-57 late in the third quarter. But UConn forced Iowa into a battle with late defensive pressure. 

With Iowa leading 70-66 in the game’s final minute, UConn initiated a halfcourt press that forced Martin into an errant pass. Muhl stole the ball, then hit a wide-open 3 pointer on the other end to cut Iowa’s lead to 70-69.

NIKA MUHL MAKES IT A 1-POINT GAME WITH 39.3 SECONDS TO PLAY! #MarchMadness#WBBpic.twitter.com/Xzg8vYwucM

— TSN (@TSN_Sports) April 6, 2024

Then with 12 seconds remaining, Arnold stole the ball off an errant pass from Stuelke to set up the pivotal late UConn possession. But the Huskies never got a look at a potential game-winner after officials whistled Edwards for the offensive foul. 

The result marked a bitter end to a stellar season for UConn that saw Bueckers return from injury to All-America form to lead the Huskies to a trip to the Final Four as a No. 3 seed. There, they held the Hawkeyes to their worst half of the season only to ultimately come up short. 

Clark finished the game with 21 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and two steals. She shot 7 of 18 from the field and 3 of 11 from 3. Stuelke added 23 points while shooting 9 of 12 from the field. After a grind of a first half, the Hawkeyes shot 45.8% from the field. They limited their turnovers to 16 for the game after giving the ball away 12 times in the first half. 

Bueckers finished with 17 points, four rebounds and three assists while shooting 7 of 17 from the field. Edwards tallied 17 points, eight rebounds, five steals, three assists and two turnovers — including one that won’t be forgotten anytime soon in Storrs. 

For Iowa, Clark’s magical season extends to its final game, where she’ll look to cap her record-shattering career with a national championship.

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