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Women's Basketball

Caitlin Clark Keeps Gliding Towards Immortality

9:03 AM EST on February 1, 2024

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Iowa Hawkeyes scores her 3,403 career point, passing Kelsey Mitchell for second in Division I NCAA women's basketball history, during the second quarter against the Northwestern Wildcats at Welsh-Ryan Arena on January 31, 2024 in Evanston, Illinois.
Michael Reaves/Getty Images

When a player scores 35 points in a blowout victory over a conference opponent, and in the process claims the all-time Big 10 scoring record and moves into second place on the NCAA all-time scoring list, you don't expect to be talking about how broken her jumper looked.

But it's true: Caitlin Clark's jumper was beat last night. She shot 3-of-12 from three-point range, and all of her other points were scored either at the rim or the free-throw line. She went through an entire game with her signature long-range shots repeatedly finding back rim and air, and still scored 35 points, and still shot 50 percent from the field, and still beat Northwestern by 36. That set of facts speaks to how good, and how complete, of a player Clark has become in her final season as a collegiate athlete, which will end with her sitting alone at the top of all-time scoring list.

There was maybe a time, earlier in Clark's career, when she could have been described as a step-back merchant. But that hasn't been true for a long time, and the performance she put together on Wednesday night was a perfect example of her ability to control a game through any method she desires. Whereas lesser players may have been helpless to stop a dreadful shooting night from pulling them into the muck, Clark took it as a sign to try something else. It was kind of funny to watch: Every time Clark put up a three that missed badly, you could see a look that said Fuck this briefly fall across her face, and then she would spend the next few possessions driving menacingly to the rim, where she would either score, get fouled, or kick out to an open teammate.

The highlight reels that populate TikTok and Instagram would have you believe that the scariest thing a defender can be confronted with in college basketball is Caitlin Clark stepping back and getting ready to launch from near the logo, but the actual stuff of nightmares is Clark grabbing a defensive rebound, seeing a pathway to the opposite rim, and deciding to travel it as quickly and forcefully as possible. It's a part of her game that might get overlooked sometimes—and with good reason, those step-backs from the logo are gorgeous—but Clark is a demon in transition and semi-transition. Nobody on Northwestern was quick enough to stay in front of her or strong enough to challenge her in the paint without fouling, and so Clark spent most of her Wednesday night bludgeoning them at the rim, where she scored 16 of her points and got herself to the line 10 times.

Clark is now just 103 points away from the No. 1 spot on the all-time scoring list, which has been occupied by Kelsey Plum since 2017. She has eight games left to play, and is averaging 32 points per game, which means that her claiming of the record is a foregone conclusion barring injury. The scoring record will just be another addition to the absurd constellation of numbers that have come to define Clark's career at Iowa. There's the 27-7-7 she's averaged over the course of her career, the 50 30-point games, the 11 40-point games, and the 15 triple-doubles. All of that adds up not to describe just one of the greatest college basketball players we've ever seen, but a player who has achieved a virtuosity in her sport. That's what was on display on Wednesday night: It wasn't grit or determination or will that allowed Clark to score 35 despite not having the use of her jumper; it was mastery.

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