No. 3 Iowa’s basketball phenom Caitlin Clark stunned No. 8 Virginia Tech, dropping 44 points en route to a 80-76 win Thursday night for the Hawkeyes. 

Clark clocked her ninth career 40-point game, which moved her into a tie with former Missouri State star Jackie Stiles for the most in Division I basketball, women’s and men’s, over the last 25 seasons. 

Clark was borderline unguardable for the Hokies, sinking 3-pointers, hooking layups and drawing fouls to collect her 44 points.

“Sometimes you’re playing checkers and she’s playing chess,” Virginia Tech coach Kenny Brooks said. “She’s that good.”

Clark shot 13-31 from the field and 13-17 from the free-throw line. Clark also pulled down eight rebounds and assisted on six buckets.

Her play even garnered praise from a fellow guard, Virginia Tech’s Georgia Amoore. Clark and Amoore traded 3-pointers back and forth during the fourth quarter of the close game.

“She’s literally been gifted by every God you can imagine. She’s insane… She’s a generational talent,” Amoore told WUNC’s Mitchell Northam

Even at away games, Clark draws an unprecedented audience. According to the Associated Press, more than 15,000 people attended the matchup between the Hawkeyes and the Hokies, and other away teams have seen their attendance spike when Clark is in town. She’s already driving up ticket sales for Iowa games this season.

And on Thursday, the audience drawn in by Clark got the show they wanted to see.

“It seems like there are a lot of people that are just fans of our game, whether it is Iowa fans or Virginia Tech fans or just people that are here to support women’s basketball,” Clark told AP. “And that is why this game was put on is because they understand how great women’s basketball is and how much it is growing.”

Reaching the first Final Four in school history required buy-in at Virginia Tech. With a coach like Kenny Brooks, that wasn’t a hard sell.

“It means everything. It’s exactly what I came for, honestly,” senior guard Kayana Traylor said after Monday’s Elite Eight win over Ohio State. “We just really bought into what Coach Brooks was already building here, to be honest, as far as culture and everything like that and just led us here.”

Senior forward D’Asia Gregg echoed those sentiments, saying that she “wanted to be a part of something that’s big.”

“I saw what he was building. I just bought into the program,” Gregg said, noting that while she didn’t play her first year, she didn’t let that deter her. “I just kept my head down, just kept working, didn’t let that discourage me. It just pushed me to go harder and to play for my teammates.”

Brooks came to Virginia Tech in 2016. In his seventh season, he has turned the program into a powerhouse.

“The places that he’s taken [the program] compared to where it was at when he inherited it is just insane,” star senior center Elizabeth Kitley said. “I’m just so happy to be a part of that and to be able to witness all the hard work that he puts into us and the coaching staff and everything.

“He just has crafted everything and stuck by his vision and what he wanted no matter what other people had to say or whatever and I think that’s so valuable in a leader and we wouldn’t be where we are without that mindset from him.”

The decision to leave James Madison, Brooks’ alma mater and the team he coached from 2003 to 2016, was difficult. But he knew he needed to see what he could do “against the best,” he said.

And in the seven seasons since he arrived in Blacksburg, Brooks has brought the Hokies to new heights.

The love that fans and players have for the coach is palpable, as evidenced by the cheers for Brooks as he cut down the net. He’s also received support from fellow coaches, including Dawn Staley, as one of the few Black men coaching in the women’s game.

“When Dawn said that, it was everything. It meant everything because there’s some rhetoric out there that men don’t belong,” Brooks said. “I think we fought so hard to get to this point where we’re not talking about race, we’re not talking about gender, and when people won’t give you an opportunity because of your race, I don’t think that we’ve gotten where we need to get to.

“So I did hear that and when I heard it, I mean, I wanted to stand up and applaud her because she is the face of women’s basketball right now. For her to be able to say that, it gives me credence, it gives me credibility that I can echo the same sentiment because I do think — and eventually what we want to get to in a women’s game is to get the best people.”

Virginia Tech might have a “No. 1” next to its name for the 2023 NCAA women’s basketball tournament, but junior guard Georgia Amoore doesn’t think the Hokies have been getting enough love.

“I didn’t see a lot of positive stuff about us on social media, so that was a huge factor to it,” Amoore told ESPN’s Holly Rowe after scoring a career-high 29 points in Virginia Tech’s 73-64 win over Tennessee in the Sweet 16.

Head coach Kenny Brooks shared a similar sentiment ahead of his team’s Sweet 16 matchup. When asked how Virginia Tech was handling its status as the “favorite” against a storied program like Tennessee, he replied, “Favored by who? If you listen to the analysts, nobody’s favoring us.”

Brooks continued, calling out ESPN: “Heck, they gave us Andraya Carter, who is a Tennessee grad. She’s doing the game. And Rebecca Lobo is lurking around. She’s a UConn grad. So, no one’s picking us.”

Granted, it’s been a breakthrough season for Virginia Tech, which won its first ACC championship to earn a No. 1 seed in the 2023 NCAA tournament, another first. On Monday night, the Hokies will play in the Elite Eight, the deepest NCAA tournament run in program history. They tip off against No. 3 Ohio State at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Brooks has described his players as basketball junkies who read and watch as much about the sport as they can — even when those stories aren’t about them.

“I think they all saw the article that was on ESPN, is this the next chapter of Tennessee and UConn? They didn’t have to say a whole lot, but it just really motivated them and they understand that they belong as well,” Brooks said. “We might not have as much history as those programs, but these kids are helping to build our history with our program.”

“We definitely see it,” senior Elizabeth “Liz” Kitley said of the media’s blindspot. “We talk about it amongst ourselves in a motivating manner and like, if anything, it just fuels us.”

Even though the Virginia Tech might not have the same decorated history as UConn or Tennessee — and the recognition that comes with it — the Hokies understand that this season’s success could be the beginning of a new women’s basketball dynasty.

“They do know the magnitude of what a win would do for our program,” Brooks said.

“If you listen to Liz or Georgia or Cayla King, who’s been with me since the inception of us trying to turn this program around, I want it so bad for them, but they want it so bad for me. We won an ACC championship, and they’re like, ‘I’m so happy for you.’ And I’m like, ‘What do you mean happy for me?'”