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Caitlin Clark Is In Class of Her Own After Fitting Ride Into Record Books

From empty gyms to packed crowds in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the star’s latest scoring feat is the culmination of her profound impact on Iowa City and the game of basketball.

Almost no one saw Caitlin Clark’s first college basketball season up close. Her freshman year was 2020, when the pandemic required gyms to be empty, cardboard cutouts languishing in the stands while teammates sat carefully spaced on the bench. The resulting quiet could be eerie. But it came with a perk for Iowa coach Lisa Bluder. It gave her a chance to study her new star player closely.

Bluder had already been watching Clark for years, of course, the work of a lengthy recruiting process. She was familiar as could be with the sharpshooter’s skillset. The pair had shared many conversations. But now coach saw player in a new way. In those oddly quiet gyms, away from the clamor and pressure of fans, Bluder could understand Clark differently.

“Nobody was in the stands, and that was almost a blessing,” Bluder told Sports Illustrated before the start of this season. “I believe it allowed us to get to know each other better as coach and athlete. It allowed me to understand—even though I’d been recruiting her forever—that actually coaching her was different. And it allowed me to understand her without all of the nation’s eyes, or the added pressure of 15,000 people in the arena.”

Caitlin Clark smiles and holds a basketball while posing for a portrait in the stands.

Clark is now the all-time scoring leader in women’s Division I college basketball with 3,569 career points.

The nation’s eyes are fixed on Iowa City now, and there is always the pressure of 15,000 people in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, plus a few more. This has become normal for Iowa’s women basketball. Every home game sold out months before the season began. Their road games are typically full, too, far beyond usual attendance, with fans pressing for glimpses everywhere they go. The circus never stops. But at the center, Bluder is still watching Clark, like in those empty gyms three and a half years ago. What she noticed back then holds just as true now.

“I’ve certainly had a lot of players that are intense, that are passionate about the game, that have been highly successful,” Bluder said. “But I think she’s just a whole different level.”

Over the last four seasons, Clark has learned more about how to harness that intensity, and Iowa has figured out how to channel that passion, and they have been highly successful together. A whole different level. Clark has redefined possibility in women’s college basketball. In her time in Iowa City, she has made a habit of making incredible, jaw-dropping feats look routine.

It seemed inevitable for some time now that Clark would end up the NCAA’s all-time women’s leading scorer. It was only a question of when, and as the Hawkeyes senior guard drew nearer to Kelsey Plum’s mark of 3,527 points, predictions and debates and countdowns proliferated. She came within striking distance of the record last weekend on the road. But it seemed fitting that she would ultimately need one more game.

The West Des Moines native would instead break the record in Iowa, at home, in front of her people at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

She entered No. 4 Iowa’s matchup with Michigan just eight points away from breaking the record. On average, eight points is the work of one quarter for Clark, who came into Thursday averaging 32 PPG. But she could do better than her average. (“If you give her a goal,” Iowa assistant coach Raina Harmon told SI before the season, “the kid’s going to try to run through a wall to try and smash it.”) She was going to make history and, it seemed, she figured she might as well put on a show in the process.

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark (22) celebrates with fans after breaking the NCAA women's all-time scoring record during the first quarter of a game against the Michigan Wolverines.

Clark fittingly broke the record in front of a packed Iowa crowd at Carver-Hawkeye arena.

 On the first possession of the game, Clark drove straight to the basket for a layup. Two points in 15 seconds. On the next possession, she sank a three. Five points in 36 seconds. On the next—well, Iowa turned the ball over on the next possession, it couldn’t be quite that easy. Fine. Clark resumed her quest a minute later. She pulled up from the edge of the logo, well behind the arc, her signature shot. It felt like a joke. But, of course, it was good. Eight points in 132 seconds. She broke the record as only she could. Clark was the highest-scoring player in NCAA women’s basketball history. And she kept going.

Clark added more wild threes, spot-up jumpers, acrobatic layups. Every shot had a shimmering, inevitable quality. She scored, and scored, and scored. Clark finished the night with 49 points, a personal best and a program record, too, along with 13 assists and five rebounds. Iowa won handily by a score of 106–89. It was Clark’s night. She made sure it felt worth the while.

The arena remained packed for the postgame ceremony. They’d come here to bear witness, and they did, and then some. Clark hugged her family. She thanked her team. The video board played recorded messages of love and congratulations from her parents, her brothers, her coaches, her former and current teammates; Clark watched, teary-eyed, from the court below. Then came a highlight reel, some choice selections from her 3,569 points and counting. The first clips all showed empty gyms. Now, they rolled for the nation’s eyes, and in front of 15,000 people in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, fans who had traveled miles, waited hours, paid out the nose for the chance to see Clark. Here was a chance to watch up close. That was all it should take to understand.