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Iowa star Caitlin Clark driving ticket demand, interest in Cleveland's Final Four

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark reacts as time winds off the clock against LSU in an Elite Eight round college basketball game during the NCAA Tournament, Monday, April 1, 2024, in Albany, N.Y.
Hans Pennink
Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) reacts as time winds off the clock in the Hawkeyes' victory against LSU in an Elite Eight round college basketball game during the NCAA Tournament, Monday, April 1, 2024, in Albany, N.Y.

Once-in-a-generation college basketball star Caitlin Clark is coming to Cleveland with her University of Iowa Hawkeyes for the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Clark, the NCAA Division I all-time leading scorer, will take on Paige Bueckers and the University of Connecticut Friday night at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. The other Final Four matchup features undefeated No. 1 overall seed South Carolina facing North Carolina State. The championship game will be played on Sunday.

Ideastream Public Media’s sports commentator Terry Pluto said he’s been astounded watching Clark, who has set the NCAA record with 3,900 career points. She’s also the all-time Division I leader in career made 3-pointers, with 538.

Pluto said it’s not only her scoring records that stand out to him.

“Her court vision. She has thrown passes to places you just go, ‘Does she have eyes on the side of her head?’ And oftentimes when a player is so gifted as a scorer, you don't see the passing skills like that develop because they're there to what? Put the ball in the basket. Well, she's putting the ball in the basket. But she's also leading the country in assists. And she's getting nearly eight rebounds a game. So, she's playing the total game,” Pluto said.

Pluto is also impressed by her stamina.

“She never looks like she gets very tired because she isn't just somebody who brings the ball up the floor (and says), ‘Get out of my way. I'm going one on one.’ She's moving without the ball and she's playing, you know, some pretty decent defense and she's rebounding. And remember, other teams are throwing two and three defenders at her. They're trying to wear her down. It's not working,” Pluto said.

Clark and her Iowa team have been breaking attendance records on their home court, and, according to the Associated Press, all of their road games have been sellouts, and schools that host Iowa have attendance increases of 150 percent.

To watch her play Friday night at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, tickets on StubHub (as of Tuesday) start at around $800 and go as high as $15,000.

“It's one of those situations where women's basketball on the college level has been growing,” Pluto said. “But you always need a face. You need somebody who's unique.”

Pluto said Clark is playing a different game than everyone else, and her style will leave an impact on the game.

"What I think we will see is women developing longer shooting skills because of Caitlin Park, but also, hopefully, looking at her passing, her defense, the whole total game that she plays well," he said.

Pluto said Clark is drawing in new fans who are not only watching her play but learning about and supporting other teams and players as well.

“I mean, the other night I'm watching Caitlin Clark and LSU, so then here comes UConn playing USC, and suddenly I'm introduced to USC star JuJu Watkins. I’m going, ‘Oh my goodness.’ And she was only a freshman,” Pluto said.

Pluto said another reason the women’s college basketball game is growing in popularity is that most of its athletes play for three our four years, unlike in the men’s game, where an emerging star declares for the NBA Draft after one year.

“It's not one and done. So, that's a big part of this, too, is Caitlin Clark grew her audience by sticking four years at Iowa,” Pluto said.

The Final Four in Cleveland will be the last chance to watch Clark play in college. She has a fifth year of eligibility due to a COVID-19 exemption, but she’s declared for the WNBA Draft. She is expected to be selected No. 1 overall by the Indiana Fever.

“Had she played one year at Iowa and gone to the WNBA, it would have been interesting and nice, but nothing like this," said Pluto. "So, it's a great showcase for Cleveland and for the women's game. People will be talking about years from now saying, ‘I saw Caitlin Clark play in Cleveland.'”

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