ALBANY — It isn’t for a championship.

It is for so much more.

It may be the most-anticipated game in the history of women’s hoops, a memory that will survive longer than title games, that will make you remember where you watched it and who you were with.

It is a rematch of the sport’s most significant matchup, of a game that ignited a rivalry, of a tournament that created celebrities, inspired a generation and ignited a movement.

It is LSU, with a chance to defend its crown, to end Caitlin Clark’s career and send her home in tears again, to allow Angel Reese and Kim Mulkey and the ultra-brash Tigers to silence their countless critics.

“I’ll take the villain role,” Reese said. “I’ll take the hit for it. But I know we’re growing women’s basketball. If this is the way we’re going to do it, then this is the way we’re going to do it. You either like it or you don’t.”

It is Iowa, with a chance to reach another Final Four, to extend its most wondrous four years for another week, to avenge a national title game loss that may forever make its state sick.

“Every single one of us wants this so bad,” Clark said. “We want to advance to the Final Four so bad. I think that’s the main similarity [with Reese] is how bad we want it and how competitive we are. … We’re going to do anything we can to help our teams win.”

The women’s game waited decades for a spotlight so large.

One year later, the most-watched contest in history is an appetizer.

For one night, Upstate New York will be the unlikely capital of college basketball, when a sold-out MVP Arena hosts the heavyweight bout between Iowa (32-4) and LSU (31-5) — the Nos. 1 and 3 seeds in the Albany 2 Region.

The Elite Eight battle is expected to draw the largest TV audience ever — last year’s national title game drew a record 9.9 million viewers, doubling the previous year’s ratings — with the sport’s two biggest celebrities headlining a historic night in women’s hoops, before a nightcap from Portland 3 Region between top-seeded USC and third-seeded UConn, featuring the sport’s other biggest stars in JuJu Watkins and Paige Bueckers.

“I think if I was just a basketball fan in general, I’d be glued to the TV like no other,” Clark said. “I think women’s basketball fans know how special and cool this moment will be. I think the viewership numbers will show that.

“I’m lucky to be a part of it.”

The hype can deliver because basketball brought them — the two-highest scoring teams in the nation — here.

Iowa melds Showtime and the “Seven Seconds or Less” Suns, leading the nation in points, assists and 3-pointers.

LSU embodies the “Bad Boys” Pistons, a well-rounded, oft-disrespected, battle-tested group, with a physical frontline and exceptional backcourt, leading the nation in free-throw attempts and ranking second in rebounds.

Last year, LSU set the all-time mark for points in a title game in the 102-85 win.

Clark — coming off a 41-point effort in an upset of undefeated South Carolina — finished with 30 points and eight assists, but the Tigers forced her to settle for 3s on 19 of her 22 shots and kept the Hawkeyes’ supporting cast quiet.

“The scouting report going into the game last year is the same scouting report going into the game this year,” Reese said. “Caitlin Clark is who she is. We’re going to have to contain her as best we can. She’s an amazing player. … She’s scoring 30 when they win, and she’s scoring 30 when they lose. … We’re just going to have to not allow those other players to score.”

Things have changed.

Only five starters return from last year’s game.

Clark is now a generational icon.

Reese, her closest rival.

A pair of non-traditional powers produce sellouts wherever they play, produce history whenever they meet.

This time, it isn’t for the title.

It’s for anything else you can imagine.

“Both of us want to win more than anything,” Clark said. “And that’s how it should be when you’re a competitor and you get into a situation like this.”

Share.
2024 © Network Today. All Rights Reserved.