Caitlin Clark leads UConn to second consecutive national championship appearance over Iowa

CLEVELAND – Gabby Marshall knew it right away.

The moment she ran into UConn forward Aaliyah Edwards, Marshall knew she had moved and had to call an illegal screen.

Moments later it was three seconds left on the clock, and Iowa clinging to a one-point lead, the game all but sealed. Iowa defeated UConn 71-69 and now prepares for its second straight national championship game, while UConn heads home in heartbreaking fashion.

All Marshall could do was be happy, having made big defensive stops for Iowa all year.

“I was very happy and excited,” Marshall said. “I know that in my mind. It's the third moving screen in the game, and we know it's a big moment.

In a game billed as Iowa's Kaitlyn Clark vs UConn's Paige Bookers, two of the final three national players of the year, the two were more than that.

Buchers finished with 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting. Clark had 21 points on 7-of-18 shooting, but neither team would have been in the game if only their stars had played.

The Huskies got a big boost from Edwards, who had 17 points and eight rebounds despite a late foul. KK Arnold, who had a steal with less than 10 seconds left, had 14 points, five assists and five steals in his first Final Four.

But it was Iowa's supporting cast that made the difference. Forward Hannah Stulke led Iowa with 23 points. It was the second time this year that Clark did not lead the team in scoring.

“I think she played with an energy about herself tonight, she can really go out there and dominate,” Clark said. “She goes toe-to-toe with Aaliyah Edwards, who in my mind is one of the best players in the country.”

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However, Iowa has been a team led by Clark, but also a team that gets big contributions in big moments. As did Sidney Affolder, who recovered Clark's missed free throw with three seconds left. Or Kate Martin, who had 11 points and eight rebounds.

Iowa's supporting cast stepped up when needed and especially when Clark struggled to open the game.

He shot 3-of-11 and didn't make a 3-pointer in the first half. Affolder then scored six and a half of the team's final eight points to cut the lead to six in the second half.

From there it was back and forth.

Clark made his first 3-pointer with 8:39 left in the third quarter to send the sold-out crowd at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse into a frenzy.

The Huskies came back on their own in the fourth quarter.

UConn trailed by nine points with 5:42 left in the game as Iowa found itself in a groove. A UConn team that only played six players seemed to run out of gas after playing most of the season on a bench shortened by injuries.

However, UConn rallied.

“Our doctors, they do a good job of making sure we're resting, recovering, getting the treatments we need,” Beukers said. “And then we're competitive and we're just grateful that we're here and we try not to take any of it for granted, not think about being tired or what hurts, what hurts, how tired we are. Being grateful that we're here and continuing with that heart. We try to play and play with a non-tired attitude.

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Trailing by four points with 50 seconds left, guard Nika Muhl stole a bad pass from Martin and hit a 3-pointer at the other end. Arnold's steal later set up UConn's final possession.

Instead of getting the shot up, UConn went home after an illegal screen was called.

Buekers said one play doesn't define a game.

“Everybody can make that one single play big, but no single play is going to win a basketball game or lose a basketball game,” Buekers said. “I feel like a lot of the mistakes I made could have prevented us from making that play big or making the game. So, you can look at a play and say, oh, that killed us or hurt us. But we should have done a better job, making sure we didn't give up an opportunity like that.” I should have done a better job of deciding the game by leaving it up to a bad call.

But that game locked up one more game for Clark in an Iowa uniform and a rematch against top-seeded South Carolina after the Hawkeyes finished an undefeated season in last year's Final Four.

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(Photo: Steph Chambers / Getty Images)

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