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The 10 Best Shots of Caitlin Clark’s Career

The Iowa superstar broke the NCAA women’s scoring record Thursday, the product of hundreds of drives and free throws and jumpers and mind-bending, possibility-breaking half-court shots.

Editor’s noteClark broke the record Thursday night on a deep three-pointer with 7:48 remaining the first quarter against Michigan to give Iowa an 8–6 lead.

Weeks of projections and discourse and countdowns should come to an end Thursday night: Caitlin Clark is poised to break the NCAA women’s scoring record when the No. 4 Iowa Hawkeyes host the Michigan Wolverines at 8 p.m. ET.

The Hawkeyes senior guard sits eight points away from passing Kelsey Plum’s career mark of 3,527. The record could fall in just a few minutes of play; Clark is averaging 32 points per game, more than anyone else in college basketball, which makes the possibility of eight in the first quarter not just reasonable but a statistical expectation. She will have the opportunity to break other scoring records before the season is out. (Those include Lynette Woodard’s AIAW total of 3,649, set before women’s college sports were overseen by the NCAA, and Pete Maravich’s all-time mark of 3,667, the college record among both men and women.) First, however, Clark will become the NCAA women’s leader by passing Plum.

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark celebrates a three-point basket against the Kansas State Wildcats.

Once she passes Plum’s scoring record, Clark will have the chance to break Pete Maravich’s all-time record among both men and women before the season’s end. 

That has seemed like a foregone conclusion for some time now. It’s been impossible to ignore recently—Plum was so sure Clark would break the record that she inadvertently delivered her congratulatory message early—but the possibility has felt inescapable for years. Clark’s game-changing potential has been evident since she was a teenager. The West Des Moines native eschewed blue bloods to play near home at Iowa, and immediately, she began shifting the program’s trajectory. As a freshman, Clark led the nation in scoring. As a sophomore, she became the first woman to lead the nation in both scoring and assisting. As a junior, she scored more, assisted more and led Iowa to its first Final Four since the 1990s. Now, as a senior, she is putting up a season even better than her previous three.

Clark’s game is more than her scoring. (Her passes might get short shrift in highlight reels, compared to her logo shots and buzzer beaters, but they very well may be the most dazzling part of her game.) But her scoring is what has put her in the spotlight this month, and it is what has made her into a hype-generating, sellout-summoning phenom. So as Clark prepares to become the NCAA’s leading women’s scorer—the product of hundreds of drives and free throws and jumpers and mind-bending, possibility-breaking half-court shots—here is her career in 10 baskets.

1. Dec. 9, 2020: A three-pointer to cement a comeback vs. Iowa State Cyclones

This was not Clark’s first game at Iowa, or her second, or her third. (Though it’s worth noting those had plenty of highlights all their own: Clark dropped 27 points in her college debut and just kept moving from there.) But it was this game, her fourth, that was the first to feel prophetic. It was the first time a game presented an opportunity for a searing, door-slamming moment, and Clark seized it.

All of the key ingredients for something memorable were here. You had a heated rivalry—Iowa vs. Iowa State—that had required a furious comeback to create a tight game late. The Hawkeyes entered the fourth quarter down by 17. They’d clawed their way back, with Clark playing a key part, her back-to-back-to-back threes the heart of a 14–0 run for Iowa. That ultimately led here. Down by one. Less than 30 seconds to play. A defender close, no good shot clearly available, jammed well beyond the three-point line. Clark might have chosen to drive to the basket or dish to a teammate: She had a few moments left to work, and after all, Iowa was down by just one. There was no obligation to go for the impractical, contested, low-percentage three. Clark could afford to be a little cautious here.

Or, at least, another player might have seen it that way. Not Clark. Her game was plenty smart, but it would never, ever be described as “cautious.” She saw the impractical, game-winning shot, and she took it. And even then—just a few weeks into her freshman season, in a near-empty pandemic gym, a world away from the places she would soon play and the player she would become—she made it feel like the most obvious call in the world.

2. Feb. 11, 2021: A deep three to ice a win over Nebraska Cornhuskers

It looks ridiculous. There’s an obvious question here: How do you give Caitlin Clark that much space in the final minutes of a close game? But there’s an obvious answer, too, if not a satisfying one: What are you supposed to do about that? What do you do besides throw the question back? Because, really, with a player who can do this one step beyond the logo—or, for that matter, on the logo—what are you supposed to do?

3. March 23, 2021: An unstoppable tourney showcase

Here is the first of Clark’s iconic March Madness performances. It was the second round of her freshman tournament, 5-seed Iowa against 4-seed Kentucky Wildcats, and this was the score at halftime: Caitlin Clark 24, Kentucky 22. She was beating the Wildcats all on her own. Her shot selection took on a ridiculous, logic-busting feel; Clark’s heat checks only served to prove she was indeed still hot. This basket was not the most impressive of her first half. But it felt like the most representative. Even this shot, off-balance, a hand in her face, did not hold any tension. This seemed ordinary. It felt inevitable.

4. Jan. 6, 2022: A spellbinding drive

Any highlight reel of Clark’s will focus on her range. There is no one else in the country who takes such deep threes with any regularity. It goes without saying there is no one else who could actually make them. But it’s a mistake to ignore Clark’s short game. She can be just as dazzling in the lane as she is from behind the arc. She can fight through any traffic—she is tougher physically than she might first appear—and she has such a smooth handle that no angle is off-limits. With this bucket, from her sophomore year, Clark slices through defenders. But it feels more accurate to say that she mesmerizes them. To watch her spin, dribble, maintain control, zip to the basket: The overwhelming effect here is almost hypnotizing. The defense could only watch.

5. Jan. 14, 2023: An understanding of context (or not)

Iowa’s coaching staff has said that one of their biggest projects with Clark has been encouraging her to understand time and score. There are occasions where she should tap into her impressive range and occasions where she should … not. This would surely have been in the latter category. It was a blowout: Iowa was up by nearly 40 points over the Penn State Nittany Lions midway through the third quarter. That is a chance to slow down, take it easy, play it safe. It’s a time for restraint.

Or an opportunity to pull up from deep at the first chance.

It’s absurd. This is not what a coach is supposed to want. It’s silly. Yet it’s hard to watch the smooth, natural motion, the self-assurance, the swish, and want anything else.

6. Feb. 26, 2023: Money

There is so much to love in this frenetic, off-kilter, buzzer-beating three. But the most delightful part might be the postgame interview. Clark gave ESPN’s Holly Rowe all the standard answers: This is something we work on in practice. We never stopped believing. This was about every single person, not just me, it took all of us. It was the model of an unremarkable athlete interview. And then Rowe asked Clark what she thought when the shot left her fingertips.

“Honestly,” she said, grinning, full of easy confidence, finally sounding like the kind of person capable of this kind of shot, “I thought it was money.”

7. March 26, 2023: The right shot

“That’s not the shot,” ESPN’s Rebecca Lobo says on the broadcast over this one. She was right: This off-balance three is not the shot. Nothing here feels advisable, period, let alone for a close game in the Elite Eight. There’s no time pressure here—no invitation to panic—yet Clark’s not even waiting to get her feet set. It should be a disaster. Only it’s not, because for Clark, this is the shot. The standard advice did not apply here. A moment to get her feet set would only be a moment for the defense to catch up. A search for a better angle would be sacrificing the fact that she could make this one. This did not follow the rules for a good shot. It didn’t matter.

This was not Clark’s most dazzling highlight from Iowa’s victory over the Louisville Cardinals. But it was the most indicative of her approach that night. There were points where it felt she was simply bending the score to her will. Her performance had a persistent, manic undercurrent, just this side of desperate. That’s not the shot. That’s not the pass. That’s not the move. And yet it worked, again and again and again, an exception to every rule.

She finished with the first 40-point triple-double in the history of the NCAA tournament.

8. March 31, 2023: A Final Four compromise

The reward for that Elite Eight victory was Iowa’s first Final Four trip in decades. The opponent would be the reigning champion No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks, undefeated on the season, the heavy favorites to win it all once more. It was the biggest stage of Clark’s career to date, and the biggest challenge, too. She rose to the occasion.

The Gamecocks’ plan for Clark became clear early: They would limit her looks from outside and force her to drive to the basket. But guarding Clark is never anything more than a chance to pick your poison; there are better options and worse options but no good options. If you try to take one tool away from her? She will beat you with anything else she can. Which is exactly what happened against South Carolina. She was uncharacteristically lackluster from deep. (Clark went 5-of-17 from three—not up to her standards, certainly, though it feels hard to be too dismissive about sinking five threes in the Final Four.) But she did considerable damage inside. Clark finished 10-of-14 in the paint. South Carolina dared her to drive to the basket, and she did, over and over. She began with this, her first bucket of the game, tearing past her defender and straight to the hoop. These were the first of her 41 points.

There are schemes that can limit Clark. There are none that can truly stop her.

9. Jan. 2, 2024: Yet another buzzer beater

A step-back is just not supposed to be able to look this smooth.

10. Jan. 27, 2024: A small miracle

This was supposed to be a dead end. It would not have been consequential, most certainly not game-losing, but a dead end all the same. An ordinary frustration. A bit of sloppiness for the coaching staff to call out later. This was a minor annoyance. It was not supposed to be a marvel.

Iowa had a comfortable fourth-quarter lead over Nebraska. The game felt secure, and the offense had taken an unhurried, lackadaisical approach to this possession. But they took their time until they had almost no time left, and while the last seconds were ticking off the shot clock, Clark was sprinting to corral an errant pass. There were no good options here. She regained control a few steps from half court, two seconds to shoot, a defender scrambling on her for the potential steal. There is not supposed to be anything to imagine here: There are certain situations you just have to write off. You do not dream of heroics with a safe lead in a routine game There is no context for magic here. You have the clock, the defense, the simple fact that not everything can always work. There are supposed to be some limits.

That, of course, is the beauty of Clark. She can somehow create her own context for anything she wants to do. That can be frustrating as often as it is dazzling, equal parts stunning and maddening, but it is always worth watching. You are not supposed to be able to imagine this. And that’s fine. Clark will show you.