SEATTLE -- On the biggest stage of her career -- for now -- Iowa guard Caitlin Clark delivered a performance for the ages on Sunday as the Hawkeyes downed Louisville 97-83 to reach the women's Final Four, recording the first 40-point triple-double in an NCAA tournament game (men's or women's) since assists became an official stat in 1984.
"She is spectacular," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. "I don't know how else to describe what she does on the basketball court. A 40-point triple-double against Louisville to go to the Final Four? Are you kidding? I mean, it's mind-boggling."
It was a showing -- 41 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists -- that sent ESPN Stats & Information scrambling to the record books and longtime observers of women's basketball going back decades to find comparisons. And it began ignominiously, with Louisville racing to an 8-0 lead before Bluder called an early timeout. Immediately after returning to the court, Clark was called for traveling. Starting there, Clark wrested control of the game. Back-to-back layups followed by a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer brought the Hawkeyes within one. Clark was only warming up. She scored or assisted on all 25 of Iowa's first-quarter points and had reached 22 points and eight assists by halftime.
"When did I know she was going to have this kind of game?" Bluder asked. "I think the second quarter seemed pretty spectacular to me. I thought the first quarter she took a couple rushed [shot attempts]. But, you know, how can you argue with that when she has 41? Pretty hard to argue with it."
After the Cardinals rallied to within one in the opening minute of the second half, having switched to a box-and-one defense to try to contain Clark, she was at the center of an 11-0 Iowa run. Louisville never seriously threatened again.
By the fourth quarter, the biggest drama was whether Clark would secure the 10th rebound necessary for her 11th career triple-double, including six this season. The record-setting rebound came with 58 seconds remaining, and Clark exited to a standing ovation from an Iowa-heavy crowd shortly thereafter.
Although she said she didn't quite realize what she had done in the moment, Clark made a beeline at the final buzzer to secure the game ball before celebrating with her teammates.
"I did want the game ball, so I chucked it to my dad," Clark said afterward. "I hope [my parents] got out of the arena in time, so the NCAA can't chase them down. But I told them to run. I'll get it later at the hotel."
Asked about her performance, Clark turned the attention to her teammates, highlighting the shot-making of McKenna Warnock (3-of-7 on 3-pointers) and Gabbie Marshall (3-of-9 on 3s) that helped produce her 12 assists.
"I just thought I played a pretty balanced game," was the most Clark was willing to admit. Bluder was happier to gush about her star player.
"The better the opponent, almost the better she plays," Bluder said. "It's like she locks in on those, when we're playing against top-25 teams, and that's when she really -- her statistics go up even more, against great opponents.
"And maybe it's because she's playing more too. I mean, it's a possibility. But I just think she's the most complete player. I mean, 12 assists -- she's going to be very mad at her turnovers. She's going to be very mad about that."
(Indeed, Clark muttered under her breath when she first sat down at the podium and saw her final turnover total: nine, one shy of an ignominious quadruple-double.)
"The better the opponent, almost the better she plays." Iowa coach Lisa Bluder on Caitlin Clark
According to ESPN Stats & Info, there has only been one triple-double in Division I women's basketball with more points than Clark's 41: a 43-point performance by LSU's Cornelia Gayden to go with 15 rebounds and 10 assists on Jan. 2, 1995, against TCU.
Between her own scoring and assists, Clark was responsible for 70 of the Hawkeyes' 97 points, matching her career high in points created, accorded to ESPN Stats & Info tracking. Since 2000, only Washington's Kelsey Plum in 2017 had recorded 30 points and 10 assists in an NCAA tournament game, and Clark narrowly surpassed Plum's 68 points created in that performance.
That level of offensive dominance stood out to ESPN broadcaster Debbie Antonelli, who was on hand when Sheryl Swoopes scored 47 points in the 1993 NCAA championship game as Texas Tech defeated Ohio State.
"Never seen a more impressive and determined effort to take a program to a Final Four with a 40-point triple double," Antonelli told ESPN via text on Sunday. "Absolutely amazing considering the defensive game plan, the scout and the stakes. It is a Steph Curry-like show to watch Caitlin Clark compete."
ESPN's Rebecca Lobo, who broadcast Sunday's game, pointed to the way Diana Taurasi lifted youthful UConn teams to national titles in 2003 and 2004 (after future WNBA stars Sue Bird, Swin Cash, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams graduated from the program in 2002) as a comparison for how Clark lifted her team.
It was during this stretch that UConn coach Geno Auriemma coined the explanation for his team's success: "We have Diana and you don't."
"Not to take anything away from her teammates, because I think Lisa Bluder has done a great job putting the right kind of players around her," Lobo told ESPN, "but the way [Clark] elevates everybody else on her team in a way that helps them win, my initial thought is I don't know that I've seen that since Diana Taurasi her last two years [at UConn]."
Perhaps the most difficult challenge for Clark after Sunday night: How to top her performance on Friday when Iowa plays in the Final Four for the first time since 1993.