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Apr 4, 2024 2:03 pm

Star shush: Hawkeyes coach wants Final Four touted as ‘Iowa versus UConn’

Caitlin Clark

CLEVELAND — Iowa returns to the Final Four with a chance to shift the narrative following a runner-up finish to LSU in 2023, and head coach Lisa Bluder would like all of the Hawkeyes — not just repeat Naismith Player of the Year Caitlin Clark — on the playbill.

“Obviously we have one of the best players in the country on our team, and we’re thrilled to have that,” Bluder said of Clark on Thursday. “But I do not want this to be a game that’s promoted as Caitlin versus Paige. And I know it already has been. But I don’t want that. I want it to be Iowa versus UConn and let these two women do what they do best.”

Clark and UConn’s Paige Bueckers are the All-American faces of two dominant programs with the Hawkeyes’ ascension directly tied to the homegrown talent at the offensive controls. Bueckers was part of a star-studded recruiting haul for traditional power UConn, which makes its 23rd Final Four appearance under coach Geno Auriemma.

Bueckers missed last season with a torn ACL, her second season-wrecking injury since joining the Huskies in 2020, and has already declared she’ll be back next season to spend another year under Auriemma — and with the six current teammates not available for UConn this weekend because of season-ending injuries. Those sidelined include 2021 No. 1 recruit Azzi Fudd and fifth-year guard Aubrey Griffin.

Star power is undeniable with the tandem, as showcased in their Final Four-clinching performances on Monday night.

Bueckers is averaging 28 points and nine rebounds in the NCAA Tournament. Clark scored 41 points in the regional final on Monday and drilled 9 of 20 attempts from 3-point range.

“Like Coach said, it’s not Paige versus Caitlin, and it takes the entire team to win a basketball game,” Clark said. “Both of us are going to do everything we can.

“But I think the coolest thing about Paige is how resilient she is. Obviously she’s been kind of dealt a tough hand and only has positive things to say about her teammates. And the way she carries herself on and off the court and the way she works hard, none of that has changed.”

–Field Level Media

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