Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Iowa’s Caitlin Clark shatters scoring records before sellout Northwestern crowd

Fans+hold+up+signs+for+Iowa%E2%80%99s+Caitlin+Clark+as+she+takes+a+postgame+interview.+Welsh-Ryan+Arena+sold+out+for+Wednesdays+matchup+between+Northwestern+and+the+Hawkeyes.
Alyce Brown/Daily Senior Staffer
Fans hold up signs for Iowa’s Caitlin Clark as she takes a postgame interview. Welsh-Ryan Arena sold out for Wednesday’s matchup between Northwestern and the Hawkeyes.

A regular season women’s hoops contest on a weekday night in Evanston doesn’t usually draw 7,039 people –– Welsh-Ryan Arena’s capacity crowd –– to a game. However, a visit from No. 3 Iowa and its reigning national player of the year, guard Caitlin Clark, calls for extraordinary turnout.

Northwestern sold out its home court for the first time in program history as the Wildcats (7-14, 2-8 Big Ten) took on the Hawkeyes (20-2, 9-1 Big Ten) Wednesday. 

Most fans, if not all, were there for one reason: Iowa’s No. 22, the trailblazing, record-breaking, ankles-taking superstar, who scored 35 points in the Hawkeyes’ 110-74 win over NU. Clark also added 10 assists and six rebounds. 

“I think a lot of people came to see (Clark) play,” said junior guard Melannie Daley, who scored a team-high 19 points for NU. “I think having the fans there, though, was an energy booster for us. I would hope that after seeing us play, even though it wasn’t the outcome we wanted … we’re a fun team to watch and I hope they come back.”

Long before the doors opened, hundreds of fans –– mostly donning black and gold –– stood outside the arena Wednesday, waiting to catch a coveted glimpse at a national megastar.

Chicago area resident Scot Marcotte said he and his family took their place near the front of the line at around 2 p.m. The group in front of him, he said, had been in line since 10 a.m. 

Something of note for these wait times: The game tipped off at 7 p.m.

“I’m thrilled that this attention is here,” Marcotte said. “It’s wonderful for the sport and women’s sports in general.”

An hour before the opening tip, Welsh-Ryan was already pushing half-capacity.

By the time junior forward Caileigh Walsh won the jump ball for NU, fans crammed into the upper deck and squeezed into the student section. Some, unable to find enough room for their group in the general admission-style seating, even sat on the stairs.

The well-traveled Hawkeye faithful held signs in admiration of the guard. Others clamored for autographs as she ran in and out of the tunnel. NU Wildside, the school’s student section, filled up long before the game started and went berserk both for the ‘Cats and Clark. 

“That was a great atmosphere,” NU coach Joe McKeown said. “Women’s basketball is in a special place.”

Clark scored 10 points in the first quarter, including a pair of 3-pointers and two assists. One such three was a stepback from NBA range, knotting the game up at five after the ‘Cats leaped to a 5-2 start. The ‘Cats did not lead again afterward.

Midway through the second frame, Clark tallied her 3,403rd point, passing former Ohio State guard Kelsey Mitchell’s career total of 3,402 points. She now sits as the second-highest leading scorer in NCAA history and also broke the Big Ten record for career points.

With eight games left in the regular season, Clark has to score 104 more points to surpass Kelsey Plum as the all-time NCAA leading scorer. She will, barring unforeseen circumstances, hit that mark. 

“I think the coolest thing is the names I get to be around,” Clark said. “Those are people I grew up watching, especially Kelsey Plum, Brittney Griner and Kelsey Mitchell … those are really, really great players that are still playing our game at the very highest level.” 

Clark continued her torrential scoring pace into the third quarter, pouring in nine more points. She also added four assists in that frame. 

Halfway through the third, Clark blocked junior guard Hailey Weaver’s shot and drained a trey on the other end, extending the Hawkeye lead to 24 points. The crowd went wild.

“She’s created an atmosphere and an identity where some of those players now are being talked about and recognized,” McKeown said. “So give Caitlin a lot of credit for expanding our game.”

Though a scary fall brought Clark out of the game for a few minutes, she checked back in early in the fourth quarter to score another eight points. 

By the five-minute mark, she was assist-hunting, so the ‘Cats began to play off of her. She faked an NU defender out not only once, but twice, to score a layup and finish her evening with 35 points. Shortly after, she walked off the floor to a raucous standing ovation.

“I think it’s kind of crazy (that) people are screaming my name so much,” Clark said. “It’s not something you really ever get used to.”

Clark, and a few other star players, including USC’s JuJu Watkins, LSU’s Angel Reese and UConn’s Paige Bueckers, have revolutionized the growth of women’s basketball at the collegiate level. 

Wednesday’s sellout at Welsh-Ryan is a bright sign for the growth of the game. Clarkmania overtook Evanston for a night, illustrating the type of crowds NU may soon bring –– perhaps record-high attendance can become the norm. 

“As long as you’re watching women’s basketball, that’s a great step for our sport,” Daley said. “I think women’s basketball is up right now, and it should stay up.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @HenryFrieman

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