The subsequent chapter in nice athlete duels begins on Saturday.
Iowa’s Caitlin Clark leads the nation in scoring at 26.8 factors per recreation. Connecticut’s Paige Bueckers — a freshman, like Clark — grew to become one of the crucial recognizable faces within the sport as she led a younger workforce to a 26-1 season.
For all of the hype across the two gamers, although, Clark may have a relatively low profile when No. 5-seeded Iowa meets No. 1 Connecticut on Saturday within the spherical of 16 of the N.C.A.A. ladies’s basketball event.
The Hawkeyes really feel they’ve been neglected, they usually play with a chip on their shoulder. Clark, for instance, wasn’t a finalist for the John R. Wood Award for the most effective participant of the 12 months, though she was the primary freshman to steer the nation in scoring since Ohio State’s Kelsey Mitchell in 2014-15. She was on the second workforce All-America squad.
Bueckers was named to the primary workforce. She’s averaging 19.9 factors per recreation, 6 assists, 4.7 rebounds and performs over 35 minutes a recreation, drawing comparisons to former Huskies greats like Breanna Stewart, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi.
Clark doesn’t view any of it as a snub. She has loved watching Bueckers develop and mentioned dealing with her is a measuring stick for her personal recreation.
“It’s nice competitors and that’s what I really like, I really like enjoying in opposition to the most effective,” she mentioned. “She’s such an amazing participant.”
Saturday would be the first time they’ll play in opposition to one another on the school stage. It’s the beginning of what guarantees to be a memorable rivalry.
“She performs with a lot ardour and pleasure and that’s form of like who I’m,” Clark mentioned of Bueckers. “I prefer to see individuals who like to play basketball a lot, even you possibly can simply inform their love being on the market.”
The 2 have an extended historical past on the court docket. They performed in opposition to one another in center college in A.A.U. tournaments and had been teammates on U.S.A. Basketball’s under-19 workforce in 2019.
Clark says she watches Bueckers play usually. She doubtless has a greater really feel for Bueckers than another opposing participant, and the identical is true for Bueckers’s data of Clark.
Each gamers enter Saturday on a roll. Clark’s 35-point efficiency in opposition to Kentucky to get the Hawkeyes to their second consecutive spherical of 16 is tied with Texas A&M’s Jordan Nixon for the very best single-game level whole within the event.
Bueckers has dominated in related style, breaking a UConn file with 24 factors in her event debut. The Huskies have been short-handed, with Geno Auriemma, their Corridor of Fame coach, out for the primary two video games due to Covid-19 protocols and freshman guard Nika Muhl injured within the opener in opposition to Excessive Level. Auriemma arrived in Texas on Wednesday.
The younger workforce, guided by Bueckers, has responded.
“We play such workforce basketball, we get a whole lot of assists due to that,” Bueckers informed The New York Instances in January. “A lot of the factors I get come from screens for my teammates so I give all credit score to them as a result of they make it occur. We actually take issues recreation by recreation and don’t let stress get to us.”
Clark pressured that Saturday’s recreation isn’t about Clark in opposition to Bueckers, however Iowa in opposition to UConn. However as Clark goes, so go the Hawkeyes. She shoots 47.7 % from the sphere and 40.9 % from 3-point vary. She single-handedly outscored Kentucky within the first half, 24-22, on Tuesday, serving to the Hawkeyes upset a No. 4 seed. The sport wasn’t shut early, and that was all Clark.
Like Bueckers, Clark is fast to defer to her teammates, and she or he has good ones. Monika Czinano averages 19.4 factors per recreation and Gabbie Marshall shoots 45.7 % from three.
“We all the time say all we want is one another each time we step on the ground,” Clark mentioned.
Inevitably, how Clark performs in opposition to UConn, ranked No. 1 within the nation at instances this season, will assist decide how she ranks not solely in opposition to Bueckers, however as a famous person within the recreation. A part of her legacy will likely be written on Saturday.
“We’re enjoying one another, but it surely’s nonetheless Iowa vs. UConn,” Clark mentioned. “It’s going to return right down to who’s the higher workforce, it’s not going to be who is healthier, me or her.”