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Pregame Notes: UConn women’s basketball quite familiar with Caitlin Clark

Plus an update on Nika Muhl’s recovery, Iowa’s view of the game, and more.

L-R: Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith, UConn’s Paige Bueckers and Iowa’s Caitlin Clark.
USA Basketball

How to watch

When: Saturday, March 27, 1 p.m.

Where: Alamodome, San Antonio, Texas



Radio: UConn Sports Network (97.9 ESPN and affiliates)

Iowa Hawkeyes

Record: 20-9 (12-9 Big Ten)

Seed: 5

Location: Iowa City, Iowa

Head coach: Lisa Bluder (21st season)

Saturday’s Sweet Sixteen matchup might be the first time UConn women’s basketball faces off with Iowa this season, but the Huskies are already plenty familiar with Hawkeyes superstar Caitlin Clark.

In fact, the freshmen phenom is close friends with UConn’s Paige Bueckers. The two have known each other for a while — “really young, middle school ages,” according to Bueckers — through USA Basketball. They helped Team USA win the gold medal at the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup and 2017 FIBA Americas U16 Championship and frequently ran into each other at AAU Tournaments around the country as well.

“We kind of just build our relationship from there,” Bueckers explained.

Though most of Iowa’s offense runs through Clark, that wasn’t the case on those USA teams. Instead, Bueckers typically had the ball and commanded the offense, which allowed Clark to play at either the 2 or the 3.

“She started and I came off the bench so we were on the court with each other quite a bit,” Clark said. “She would play point guard a little more. I wouldn’t really play point guard that much when I was on Team USA but honestly, she had the ball in her hands a lot when we were on that team together and she did a lot of things with the ball in her hands.”

Though the two have caused a fierce debate online over which is the better freshmen with their play this season, there’s no rivalry between them. They’re just friends who want the other to do well.

“We root for each other,” Bueckers said. “I enjoy watching her play and I’m a really big fan of her game. The stuff she does is pretty amazing.”

Since Clark was the No. 4 player in the class of 2020, Geno Auriemma often saw her play while he was out on the recruiting trail — as did every other Division I coach in the country.

“Everybody sees all the best players and you know you’re not getting all of them. You actually are fortunate when you get a couple of them,” he said. “Everybody saw Caitlin Clark play. If you didn’t, then it’s because you are recruiting someplace else where that type of player wasn’t on your radar because you don’t recruit at that level.”

Because of this, it comes as no surprise to Auriemma that Clark is having one of the best seasons in the country and will be in contention with Bueckers for freshman of the year. He’s already seen how Clark’s greatness firsthand — the only difference is now she’s doing it against college players instead of high schoolers.

“It’s the same thing that she was doing during the summer and a lot of the same thing she did for USA basketball,” he said. “You’re always a little bit, kind of, “Wow”, when they do it this quickly and they do it this well. But you knew it was going to happen, you just didn’t quite know you know how long it would take, and obviously, it didn’t take very long at all.”

How they got here

UConn earned two comfortable wins against 16-seed High Point and 8-seed Syracuse to reach its 27th consecutive Sweet Sixteen.

Iowa handled Central Michigan comfortably in the opening round, 87-72. Clark came in below her season average (26.8 points per game) with 23 points but still added seven rebounds and seven assists. In the second round, the Hawkeyes defeated 4-seed Kentucky by a nearly identical score, 86-72. Clark was sensational, outscoring the Wildcats 24-22 at the half and finishing with 35 points, seven rebounds, and six assists.

Series history

UConn owns a 4-3 record all-time against Iowa. The Hawkeyes claimed the first three games of the series — one of which came before Geno Auriemma’s time — but UConn has won the last four. All of Iowa’s victories came by single-digits while the Huskies’ have all been greater than 24 points.

The two teams last met in the second round of the 2002 NCAA Tournament when the Huskies handled the Hawkeyes 86-48 inside Gampel Pavilion.

Scouting the Hawkeyes

Opponent Preview: No. 1 UConn women’s basketball vs. No. 5 Iowa

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark presents UConn women’s basketball with its toughest individual matchup of the season

View from the other side

Caitlin Clark on going up against Paige Bueckers: “I think it’s not going to be an individual matchup with her, it’s going to be a whole team effort more than anything. We’ll try to run a lot of different things at her but UConn has more than just Paige and I think that’s the biggest thing, you have to control the rest of the team too.”

Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder on UConn: “I love their offense. I love that all five players can score. I love their high field goal percentage, their high 3-point percentage, the way they distribute the ball. I really enjoy their offense. I think their spacing is good, they don’t take bad shots.”

Nika Muhl improving

After missing UConn’s last game due to a sprained ankle suffered against High Point, Nika Muhl appears to be on the mend. Though Auriemma didn’t couldn’t provide any firm update during his press conference on Thursday, the freshman point guard seems to be trending in the right direction.

“I saw her today doing some stuff in the workout room with Janelle [Francisco], our athletic trainer. She seemed to be moving pretty well,” Auriemma said. “We have practice coming up right after this so we’ll see whether or not she can move pain-free, how much she can move right now. But I know she’s way better than she was two days ago and two days from now, she’ll be way better than she is today. I just don’t know where she is today.”

By the numbers

14 — UConn has won its last 14 Sweet Sixteen matchups. The last time the Huskies didn’t advance to the Elite Eight was in 2005 when they were crushed by Stanford in the Sweet Sixteen, 76-59.

3 — Over the last 14 years, UConn hasn’t faced much of a challenge in the Sweet Sixteen. Just three of the Huskies’ victories have been within single digits — 2006, 2007, and 2011. Since then, Penn State got the closest, falling by 18 in 2012.

86.7 — Aaliyah Edwards is making a ridiculous 86.7 percent of her shots in the NCAA Tournament. The next closest on the team is Aubrey Griffin at 80.0 percent.

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