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Iowa basketball phenomenon Caitlin Clark set to take on Ohio State

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) celebrates during the during a game against Minnesota.
Charlie Neibergall
Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) celebrates during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Minnesota, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2023, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 94-71. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

One of the biggest stars in all of college basketball is coming to Columbus this weekend.

Caitlin Clark has electrified sports fans across the country in her four years with the Iowa Hawkeyes and has taken national interest in women’s hoops to new heights.

On Sunday, Clark’s team takes on Ohio State at the Schottenstein Center.

We talk about Clark's Hawkeyes team with Chad Leistikow, who covers the Hawkeyes for the Des Moines Register and the Iowa City Press-Citizen.


Matthew Rand: Tell me more about Caitlin Clark and what makes her such a special player.

Chad Leistikow: I mean, just the other day, she moved into fourth all-time in NCAA scoring history. She's going to set the record as long as she stays healthy, probably by mid-February.

Beyond her scoring though, she's led the nation in assists, so she's just an incredible passer. In fact, those are some of the more electrifying plays.

I'm sure everyone listening has heard of the logo shots. I mean she's had game-winning shots from, you know, Herkey's beak at midcourt at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and just regularly pulls up from 30+ feet and just drains three-pointers.

You know, it's demoralizing for other teams. It gives Hawkeye fans—who have sold out the whole season home and away for Caitlin Clark—a lot to cheer for.

Matthew Rand: Okay, so she's working her way into the record books. But stats aside, just how explosive a player is she? And where does she rank among among women's players and the men?

Chad Leistikow: Yeah. I mean, she's certainly the most popular college athlete right now in the world.

I talked to Rebecca Lobo, a prominent ESPN voice and prominent longtime women's basketball player at UConn, And she said [Clark] is on the Mount Rushmore already of women's basketball players. The crazy thing is she could stay for yet another year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I don't think she will. That's certainly a conversation here in Iowa, but she could stay a fifth year and just absolutely shatter every record book.

And interestingly, she's got a really good chance of setting the all-time men's record, too. Pete Maravich has held that for forever, and she, has a really good shot—as long as Iowa gets to the postseason—of breaking that mark as well. So that gives you a sense of the history that she's making now.

Matthew Rand: That's just amazing. I'm curious kind of what this effect has had on sports fandom in general, and specifically about what effect this has had on young female players.

Chad Leistikow: What's really interesting, Matthew, is it's it's not just little girls with Caitlin Clark jerseys; it's little boys here in Iowa. It's everywhere.

All the arenas she goes to, they're packed. They're waiting in lines 90 minutes before tip. I'm sure it'll be the same in Columbus on Sunday morning. You know, people are waiting to get into the arena to to watch Caitlin Clark warm up, because she's shooting these long bomb three-pointers and making them.

And she's just great with fans personally. She's just a breath of fresh air. She's so good with the media. Heck, she's got State Farm commercials, Gatorade commercials, Nike. I mean, the inception of NIL in college athletics has come at a perfect time for her and her popularity. And she is just a transcendent figure. There's no question about that.

Matthew Rand: The Hawkeyes are clearly a phenomenal team, but the 18th ranked Buckeyes, they're no slouch either. What will you be watching for in Sunday's match up?

Chad Leistikow: Yeah, it's one of the toughest tests of the year for the Hawkeyes, who come into this with an 18-1 mark, the best start in Lisa Bluder's tenure at Iowa, which is 20 plus years.

I talked to one coach this week who said this is really going to test us because Ohio State's a really good team. It's on the road. You know, Iowa is not just Caitlin Clark, but she does need help if they're going to win a big game like this. And honestly, from our Iowa perspective, if they could win this game, they'll move them to 8-0 in Big Ten play and probably start to march toward a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed, which, as you know, is so important in the women's game because you first round games. And then it creates a much more friendly path to get to the Final Four, which this year is in Cleveland.

Matthew Rand: All right, lots of excitement around this game and what's to come. I've been speaking with Chad Leistikow, who covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Des Moines Register and the Iowa City Press-Citizen about Caitlin Clark coming to Columbus. Tip-off is set for noon Sunday at the Schottenstein Center. Chad, thanks again.

Chad Leistikow: Thank you.

Matthew Rand is the Morning Edition host for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides daily talk show.