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College Basketball

Caitlin Clark Knows When To Start The Show

Caitlin Clark
G Fiume/Getty Images

Arbitrarily segmented and highly specific sports records aren't usually good for much more than filling out a chyron with some information for a play-by-play announcer to muse over during a break in the action, but they can occasionally produce a neat little encapsulation of who a player is at a specific point in time. So let it be said that Caitlin Clark becoming the first player in Division I men's or women's basketball to score 40 or more points against a ranked opponent twice in one season is a very Caitlin Clark accomplishment.

Clark scored 42 points in a 96-82 victory over No. 8 Maryland last night, and her performance carried all the typical hallmarks. She ceaselessly pushed the pace, dribbled into pull-up jumpers without hesitation, and of course bombed away from the farthest reaches of three-point territory.

In her three seasons at Iowa Clark has now scored 40-plus points on six occasions, but this was her most efficient of the bunch. She needed just 19 shots to get there, went 6-of-11 from three-point range, and padded things out nicely by making 10 of her 11 free throws. It's easy to see a clip or two of Clark firing away from NBA three-point range and conclude that she is at heart a mad bomber with no conscience (she is), but games like the one she played on Thursday night are a reminder of her ability to control the action. She added eight rebounds and seven assists to her 42 points, and the 27-7-7 she's averaging for the season is a stat line synonymous with the game's greatest orchestrator.

The talk after Thursday's game was all about the National Player of the Year race, and Clark's place in it. Her coach, Lisa Bluder, held up Clark's performance as the end of the debate (while also struggling slightly with the concept of a double negative). "I don’t know how you cannot say that is not the National Player of the Year,” Bluder said of her star player. Clark herself opted for the standard cliche: "As long as my team wins, all that takes care of itself."

Clark's case for claiming the award may not be as open-and-shut as Bluder would like. Villanova's Maddy Siegrist still has a hold on the scoring title, and Angel Reese can make a strong case with the 23-15 she's averaging on a 22-0 LSU team. But if spectacle plays a role—and why shouldn't it?—then Clark has the edge. Steady competence is all well and good, but there are few things more fun than watching a player who both understands when the spotlight is on her and how to fill it with the best possible performance. Will Clark give you the occasional 9-of-24 stinker while pressing way too hard in a marquee matchup? Sure, but when everything comes together like it did on Thursday night, you can't help but understand her urge to grab every important game by the throat.

Who needs shame when you can hit shots like that?

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