DALLAS -- Before Caitlin Clark even signed with Iowa, she told head coach Lisa Bluder she would take the Hawkeyes to a Final Four -- a feat Iowa hadn't reached since 1993. This season, Bluder said, has been about the Iowa-born Clark fulfilling that "destiny."
"I can remember sitting in her living room and her saying, I want to go to a Final Four," Bluder recounted. "And I'm saying, 'We can do it together.' She believed me, and so I'm very thankful for that."
Clark said she felt calmness before the Hawkeyes' Elite Eight game against Louisville, an eventual 97-83 win. It wasn't because she didn't take it seriously, but because she already visualized winning. Clark was just ready to go out there and have fun.
"I think that's when I'm playing my best basketball, when I'm having the most fun out of anybody on court. I love to play this game," Clark said. "I've dreamed of this moment since I was a little girl. I've always wanted to take a team to the Final Four and be in these moments and have confetti fall down on me."
It all became a reality on Sunday, as the junior guard put her name in the history books against Louisville with 41 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds -- the first ever 40-point triple-double by a man or woman in the NCAA Tournament.
Earned it.@CaitlinClark22 x #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/eXSPWJl633— Iowa Women's Basketball (@IowaWBB) March 27, 2023
Nothing of this magnitude happens overnight. Clark is one of the top scorers in the nation with an average of 27.3 points per game. She is also the leader in assists averaging 8.6 per game this season, a stat she credits her teammates for. Continuity certainly helps Clark's case, as Iowa's starting lineup -- Clark, Monika Czinano, McKenna Warnock, Kate Martin and Gabbie Marshall -- has been in place for 90 consecutive games.
Iowa's roster has jelled well together, but at first it was hard for all the players to truly be convinced that they would reach the Final Four. To make Clark and Bluder's vision a reality, every one in the locker room had to believe.
"About the only people that believed were me and her when I first committed to her, and it was getting the locker room to believe. Then everybody in the locker room believed and the rest is kind of history," Clark said. "But a lot of people told me it would never happen when I came to the University of Iowa. But she believed in me and that was really all that mattered. And we made our locker room believe, and when you dream and work really hard, a lot of really cool things can happen."
𝐅𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐈𝐨𝐰𝐚 💛#Hawkeyes x #WFinalFour pic.twitter.com/0AN526qmCS— Iowa Women's Basketball (@IowaWBB) March 28, 2023
Bluder said Iowa's journey to this Final Four really started in 2021, toward the end of Clark's freshman year when the team beat Kentucky to get into the Sweet 16 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teams played in a bubble, which Bluder said helped bring her roster closer together. However, UConn blew out the Hawkeyes 92-72 in their Sweet 16 matchup.
Then the 2022 NCAA Tournament happened. The Creighton Bluejays went on a Cinderella run and upset Iowa in the second round. Bluder described it as a "disappointment" because she really believed her team could've done something special that year.
Nevertheless, Bluder said that to achieve something big it only takes one person to dream it. That person was Clark, who Bluder described as the hardest worker and someone who wasn't afraid to publicly share her goal of reaching the Final Four.
"And she kept saying it in the paper. And I kept saying, I was thinking, 'Quit doing that, man.' I learned a long time ago not to always give your goals away to people. Because they can, there's a lot of people that want to tear 'em down," Bluder said. "She wasn't afraid of that goal. She wasn't afraid of putting it out there. And not only in her circle, but out to anybody."
Perhaps it was a risky move, as there are a total of 351 Division I women's basketball teams in the country and only four (1.1%) can make it to the the final weekend of the NCAA Tournament. However, basketball is something that Clark takes seriously -- and not so seriously -- at the same time.
"I play this game because I love it, and it brings joy to me, and it bring as lot of joy to other people because our team is so fun to watch," Clark said. "I don't play it to hoist a trophy, whether it's individually or with my team. That just comes with the joy and the passion that we play for and how much fun we have with one another.
"So, yeah, I think it's just who I am. ... I'm a fun person off the court too. Maybe a little too goofy at times. But I think that's what makes basketball so fun for me."
Iowa is set to take on the No. 1 overall seed South Carolina on Friday night. The Gamecocks are looking to defend their 2022 national title, while the Hawkeyes are looking to make it past the Final Four for the first time in program history.