March 27, 2021 

Paige Bueckers, Caitlin Clark set to kick off the Sweet 16

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The game will come down to more than just Bueckers and Clark, but that matchup could grow interest in women's basketball

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The one-seed UConn Huskies and five-seed Iowa Hawkeyes meet today in a Sweet 16 matchup, pitting two elite freshmen against one another in UConn’s Paige Bueckers and Iowa’s Caitlin Clark. Here is what you need to know about the two transcendent guards before the game, which will air at 1pm ET on ABC.

Bueckers is raising the bar at UConn

UConn guard Paige Bueckers attempts a layup against Syracuse University in the second round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament on March 23, 2021 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos)

There have been a lot of stories written about the latest “generational” player to come out of UConn. However, this is all you need to know: Not since Maya Moore has UConn seen a freshman like Bueckers. Literally, not since Maya Moore.

We don’t know yet what this means in terms of NCAA titles, a WNBA career, or if Bueckers, too, will step away from basketball in her prime to take on prosecutorial reform. What we do know is that Bueckers is doing what nobody has done since Moore in a program that breeds Hall of Fame-caliber players.

As one of us wrote earlier in the season, Bueckers is a true freshman in that she is still finding her flow. Defensively is where her youth is exposed most. It is also where the in-game adjustments she makes are most noticeable. It’s hard to imagine that Bueckers will be assigned to shut down Clark on the defensive end. If we were Iowa, we’d try to run the ball through whomever Bueckers is guarding to get her thinking on both ends.

The only problem with that is that Bueckers seems to be the type of player who enjoys the game within the game. The regular-season matchups against South Carolina and Tennessee are perfect examples.

If this contest against Iowa comes down to the wire (and let’s be honest, that’s what we all want), Bueckers will likely be the player who will guide UConn to victory. Perhaps it will be a buzzer-beating shot. Maybe it will be a huge block or steal down the stretch. Maybe it will be the perfect pass into the post to take the lead.

We don’t know yet what form it will take, but we can all but guarantee that Bueckers will be as good as advertised.

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark shoots over Kentucky guard Robyn Benton during the Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament on March 23, 2021 at Bill Greehey Arena in San Antonio, TX. (Photo by Rudy Gonzalez/NCAA Photos)

Clark sees the matchup as a chance to grow the game

Despite growing up in-state, Clark was never a Hawkeye fan and primarily attended local games at Drake University with her dad. She only began to notice what Lisa Bluder was building when Iowa recruited players such as Megan Gustafson and Kathleen Doyle, both of whom became Big Ten Players of the Year.

“When I started getting recruited, I started paying attention more,” Clark said.

While Bueckers’ commitment to UConn received more national recognition than Clark’s to Iowa — despite them being ranked as the top two point guards in their class — Clark has made an immediate impact on the national radar that has only grown bigger this postseason.

Similar to Bueckers, Clark does it all: Besides scoring 58 points over her first two tournament games, she also recorded 14 rebounds and 13 assists. In the round of 32 win against four-seed Kentucky, Clark outscored the Wildcats all by herself in the first half, 24-22.

https://twitter.com/ben_dull/status/1374456346884460548

At 6’, Clark’s length allows her to see and shoot over smaller guards. In the Kentucky win, she frequently pulled up for 3-point shots just after crossing half court, paying no mind to her proximity to the center court logo or the time remaining on the shot clock.

From well behind the 3-point line, Clark shoots over Kentucky guard Chasity Patterson during the Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament on March 23, 2021 at Bill Greehey Arena in San Antonio, TX. (Photo by Rudy Gonzalez/NCAA Photos)

Though Clark and Bueckers are listed as point guards, both have experience playing off the ball — the former mostly with USA Basketball and the latter at UConn.

“[Bueckers] won’t always bring the ball up for UConn,” Clark said. “She can play the off-guard position as well, which I think is also important to notice for matchup reasons.”

Clark downplayed the significance of her individual matchup with Bueckers in determining the outcome of the game, but she does believe that facing off against her former USA Basketball teammate will generate more buzz around women’s basketball and get more eyes on the sport.

“I think that’s just so great for the women’s game,” said Clark. “I think more and more people are noticing, more and more people are watching. I think a lot of people will tune in and watch this game, and that’s exactly what you want for women’s basketball.”

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