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Caitlin Clark stole away with game ball after Elite Eight triple-double

(Photo by Tyler Schank/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

When it came to the ball with which Caitlin Clark scored the only 40-point triple-double in NCAA Tournament history, the sharpshooter wasn’t letting it leave the arena with anyone other than family.

The Iowa guard grabbed the ball from one of her teammates, then tossed it to a familiar face in the stands.

“I did want the game ball, so I chucked it to my dad,” she said after her team’s 97-83 win against Louisville in the Elite Eight. “I hope they got out of the arena in time, so the NCAA can’t chase ’em down. But I told ’em to run. I’ll get it later at the hotel.”

If you ask Clark, her 41 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds are “a pretty balanced game.” Not historic. Not the best performance in NCAA Tournament history. Just balanced. 

It’s a balance that has helped the second-seeded Hawkeyes as they’ve made a run to their first Final Four since 1993. It’s the first Final Four that the state of Iowa has seen since Iowa women’s basketball made its last run in 1993. No other Iowa team – not the Iowa men, not Iowa State, not UNI, not Drake – has made it this far in the 30 years since then.

“I mean, 12 assists, that’s my teammates making shots right there,” Clark continued, praising McKenna Warnock, Gabbie Marshall and Monika Czinano in turn.

So a total team effort. I pride myself in doing a lot of different things for this team. This is probably the biggest game I played in, but I honestly felt it was one of the most calm I’ve ever felt before a basketball game in my life.”

Iowa coach Lisa Bluder and her players didn’t talk much about the stakes of the game beforehand, Bluder said. Instead, they approached it like they would any other. 

“She’s really done a great job of just really calming herself before every game and taking the same approach every game,” Bluder said. “We didn’t talk about the Final Four a lot. We talked about playing 40 minutes. Like every other game. And we went about today like every other game. We didn’t do anything different or special.”

As for what Clark accomplished Sunday, Bluder doesn’t really have an answer for that either.

“She is spectacular. I don’t know how else to describe what she does on the basketball court,” she said. “A 40-point triple double against Louisville to go to the Final Four? Are you kidding? I mean, it’s mind-boggling.

“It’s funny, because the better the opponent, almost the better she plays. It’s like she locks in on those, when we’re playing against top-25 teams and that’s when she really, her statistics even go up even more, against great opponents.”

A contributing factor to the historic performance is that Clark not only treated it like any other game, but she had fun while doing so. Perhaps more than anyone else on the court.

That fun showed in her play, and in her quest for her game ball souvenir.

“I love to play this game. 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,” Clark said. “But I play this game because I love it, and it brings joy to me, and it brings a lot of joy to other people because our team is so fun to watch.

“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. 

“I think it’s just who I am. At the end of the day is — I’m a fun person off the court too. Maybe a little too goofy at times. But, you know, I think that’s what makes basketball so fun for me.”