Caitlin Clark Effect

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The Caitlin Clark Effect was evident yesterday as Iowa faced Holy Cross in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. A merchandise truck was parked outside the Carver-Hawkeye Arena, ostensibly for the hapless minority who somehow failed to deck themselves in the hosts’ gear. The gates opened a couple of hours before tipoff, but, by then, lines had already formed around the perimeter. Needless to say, the capacity crowd, officially listed at 14,324, expected not just victory, but a stellar performance from the presumptive Player of the Year.

Indeed, the Hawkeyes, top seed in the Albany 2 bracket, were heavily favored to prevail over the 16th-ranked Crusaders. And, as if projections didn’t already bring enough pressure, at the back of their minds was the eventuality that they would be playing their last match at home with Clark on the marquee. Regardless of how they fare in March Madness, she will be foregoing her last year of eligibility and turning pro — and, with her, four other seniors. In other words, the end of an era is nigh.

Significantly, the Hawkeyes could not summon their magic early on for some reason or another. Considering that their current campaign has included a successful run to the Big Ten title and a cacophony of non-conference sellouts in neutral venues, pressure could not have been the reason. (In the aftermath, head coach Lisa Bluder attributed the their slow start to the 13 days they had to endure between contests.) In any case, they led by just two points after the first quarter. And Clark was no better; she made a turnover 12 seconds in, and four more to match her scoring output in the first 10 minutes of play.

To be sure, Clark and the Hawkeyes eventually buckled down to work. At the half, their lead had grown to 18 off sterling defense; they held the Crusaders to nine points on one-of-12 shooting from the field. And as the payoff period drew closer, the outcome became evident to all and sundry: a blowout that would enable them to play in front of partisan fans one last time. Tomorrow, they face tougher opposition in the West Virginia Mountaineers, but the presupposition and objective remain the same.

How far will the Hawkeyes go in the tournament? Will they manage to once more carve a path to the championship match? Or will they bow out before then owing to the vagaries of do-or-die set-tos? Only time can tell, but one thing is clear all the same: They’re only too glad to let Clark take them as far as she can.

Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.