Women's College Basketball
LSU upsets Iowa, Caitlin Clark to win title in record-setting finale
Women's College Basketball

LSU upsets Iowa, Caitlin Clark to win title in record-setting finale

Updated Apr. 2, 2023 8:36 p.m. ET

DALLAS — A bedazzled Kim Mulkey looked up at the scoreboard and cried.

In just her second season at LSU, she led the program to win its first national championship by beating favorite Iowa, 102-85 on Sunday afternoon at the American Airlines Center. The Tigers are the first team to score 100-plus points in a women’s final.

"This is crazy, good stuff," Mulkey said on stage as she accepted the national championship trophy.

While it wasn’t a classic upset, per se, it was a remarkable win given how the last few weeks of the NCAA Tournament have been dominated by the Caitlin Clark Show. The 6-foot Iowa superstar has been averaging 32.0 points per game in the tourney and entered her first national title game fresh off back-to-back 41-point games. And after knocking off defending champs South Carolina in the Final Four, this game was the Hawkeyes’ to lose.


And that’s what happened. Clark still scored 30 points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the fiery Tigers.

Here are three thoughts from an epic national title game:

Who saw this one coming?

Well, maybe LSU did. 

Clark may have made a statement to start the game — her first shot attempt was a deep 3, which gave her the NCAA tournament record for 3-pointers — and she ran out to score a quick 14 points in the first 10 minutes. 

But that was the only time the Hawkeyes truly looked like they could win. The second quarter was all about Jasmine Carson. The LSU guard came off the bench and stole the show from Clark. She went off for 21 points on 7-of-7 shooting and 5-of-5 from 3-point range, including a breathtaking buzzer-beating 3 to end the first half and give her team a 59-42 lead. Those 59 points in a single half were a Final Four record and set the tone for the rest of the day.

"This is the game of my life," said Carson, a senior who transferred from West Virginia. "I won a national championship on the biggest stage. When I woke up, I just wanted to win. I wanted to do anything that my team needed in this game. Whether it was defense, rebounding, anything to support them. I scored tonight and that really pushed us and got us momentum."

Iowa got into foul trouble in the second half with Clark getting her fourth on a technical and seniors Monika Czinano and McKenna Warnock both fouling out with so much time left to play.

It didn’t even matter in the end, as LSU was more prepared for this moment. Angel Reese, who only played nine minutes in the first half with two early fouls, tabbed her 34th double-double of the season — an NCAA record — with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Alexis Morris, who scored two points in the first half, finished with 22 points and nine assists.

Iowa’s game plan against South Carolina in Friday’s semifinal was to make it shoot from the perimeter, which wasn’t one of their strengths. LSU doesn’t normally take a lot of 3-point shots — though they were better from long range than South Carolina — and typically get most of their points in the paint. The Tigers exploited the Hawkeyes with their shooting, though, going 54% from the floor on 70 attempts. They were 65% from 3, scored 26 points off turnovers, had 34 points in the paint and out-rebounded Iowa, 37-26.

"I knew going into this Iowa wouldn’t be able to guard us the way they guarded South Carolina," Morris said.

Clark scored 30 points, but only one inside the arc. While South Carolina needed five different players to try and contain her, LSU relied mostly on Morris, who was more than up to the challenge after battling Virginia Tech’s Georgia Amoore on Friday.

"She didn’t keep them from scoring, because they’re that good," Mulkey said. "But what she did is she made every shot they took a little bit more difficult instead of easy. We knew Caitlin was going to shoot the ball. We knew she was going to make her 3s. But we couldn't give her the 10 or 12 points she always gets off layups. She got free throws, and she had those 3s, but she didn’t get many layups inside the arc."

LSU wasn’t even the best team in the SEC this year. That was South Carolina. The Tigers kind of flew under the radar, only losing two games this season — one in the regular season to the Gamecocks and then to Tennessee in the SEC tournament.

Now they are improbable national champs.

Caitlin Clark will be back

Lucky for everyone, Clark is only a junior and will be back for her senior year. Potentially better news than that is that she could take advantage of the extra COVID year the NCAA has granted athletes, meaning she could play for Iowa for two more seasons if she wanted to.

For example, Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech’s senior star and Player of the Year finalist, announced Sunday that she will return for an extra COVID year.

How likely is it that Clark, who was named National Player of the Year last week, will do the same? It depends. How badly does she want to chase a championship? Certainly, she’ll be motivated to win one as a senior after coming so close this year. There’s also the NIL aspect of it all. An athlete like Clark can make more money through NIL in college than through her WNBA rookie contract, which could make staying in school for two more years enticing. 

LSU’s Reese briefly touched on this topic Saturday when asked about the lack of WNBA players getting sneaker deals.

"That’s my big goal right now, especially with NIL, I can make as much money in college, probably more than the WNBA," Reese said.

But when Clark was asked about her legacy — one that could eventually include lucrative NIL deals, a national championship and maybe another POY honor — she didn’t even mention winning. She instead spoke of how upset and sad she is that she won’t go to practice tomorrow with her teammates and how she hopes to inspire little kids.

"I don’t think it’s gonna sit in for me for quite some time," Clark said. "I want my legacy to be the impact that I can have on young kids and the people of the state of Iowa. I hope I brought them a lot of joy this season. I hope this team brought them a lot of joy."

LSU on the rise with Mulkey

Mulkey is in a class of her own.

After she built Baylor into a powerhouse and won three titles over two decades, she surprised a lot of people when she decided to return to her Louisiana roots and start over at LSU. Now, she joins Rick Pitino (Kentucky in 1996, Louisville in 2013) as the only coaches to win national championships with two different programs, although Pitino’s second title was vacated due to NCAA sanctions.

So no matter what you think of Mulkey or her feathery and frilly outfits — she wore a sparkly tiger striped suit for the national championship game that could double as a perfectly acceptable outfit for a Taylor Swift concert — she’s a winner. 

This was LSU’s first trip to the national championship in men’s or women’s basketball, and the Tigers could be back as soon as next season given that they only lose two senior starters from this team and will return core players like Reese, Kateri Poole and Flau’jae Johnson.

One of the storylines of the weekend was how Mulkey built this team and its culture with nine new players so quickly and had them ready to take on and dominate this moment. The transfer portal and NIL played a significant role — Morris, Reese and Carson are all great examples of that. But more than that, her players talk about being best friends and having a tight locker room as if they’ve been playing together for four years rather than several months.

"We’ve got a locker room full of kids who like tough love," Mulkey said. "They will tell you how they feel, they’ll talk trash on the floor. You have to be a strong coach to coach these personalities and I say that not to pat myself on the back, but I don’t have a problem getting in their face."

It’s clear LSU and Mulkey are a perfect match, and this championship could be the first of many more to come. 

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of "Strong Like a Woman," published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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