Following last season’s watershed moment for the sport in the national title game, Monday marks another historic day for women’s college basketball.

Iowa and LSU face off in the Elite Eight, marking the first time the two teams will go up against each other since last year’s title game. Ahead of Monday’s game, Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese said they don’t have any hard feelings toward each other following last season’s title game. 

“Me and Caitlin Clark don’t hate each other. I want everybody to understand that. It’s just a super competitive game,” Reese told reporters. “Once I get between those lines, there’s no friends. I have plenty of friends on the court that I talk to outside of the game, but like when I get between those lines, we’re not friends. We’re not buddies. I’m going to talk trash to you. I’m going to do whatever it takes to get in your head the whole entire game, but after the game we can kick it.” 

Clark shared a similar sentiment. The Iowa star said “there’s definitely that competitive fire” between the two, adding that it’s probably the thing they share the most in common.

“Me and Angel have always been great competitors,” Clark said. “Obviously, she played in the Big Ten for a while to begin her career, and that’s what makes women’s basketball so fun is you have great competition, and that’s what we’ve had all year long. I think Angel would say the same.”

Reese and Clark were the center figures of last season’s title game, but not just because of their play. Reese’s trash-talking of Clark in the final moments of LSU’s win usurped the actual play on the court in the game’s aftermath. The LSU star looked toward Clark and flashed her hand in front of her face, mimicking John Cena’s popular move, before pointing to her ring finger. 

Reese was criticized for the move even though Clark made a similar taunt to an opposing player earlier in the tournament. Clark later came to Reese’s defense.

The game received extra attention as it became the most-watched women’s college basketball game ever. The battle drew comparisons to the 1979 men’s national championship game, which saw Magic Johnson’s Michigan State squad beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State team, marking the start of one of the NBA’s greatest rivalries.

As some have started to link the two women’s stars together similarly to how Johnson and Bird were linked together, Reese said that she’s heard the comparisons, but she really isn’t “familiar” with it.

However, Reese is fine with playing the heel role if it benefits the sport.

“I’ll take the villain role. I’ll take the hit for it,” Reese said. “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.”

The LSU-Iowa matchup in Albany isn’t the only Elite Eight game on Monday that will pit two of the game’s top stars against each other. Paige Bueckers is looking to bring UConn back to the Final Four after the Huskies fell short last year with their star sidelined for the season due to an ACL tear. They’ll have to beat a 29-5 USC squad in order to do that, with Juju Watkins arguably having the best freshman season in the history of the sport. 

The two All-Americans dished admiration for each other ahead of Monday’s game.

“Her confidence, her fearlessness, and ability to just not care that she’s a freshman and just perform the way that she does at the level that she does, it’s pretty amazing,” Bueckers told reporters of Watkins as the USC star is just seven points away from setting the record for the most points scored by a freshman. 

“That’s the key part to being a great basketball player is surveying the court and stuff like that. It’s definitely something I’m continuing to work on, but I would say she’s got it,” Watkins said of Bueckers. “Not necessarily how quick, but the way she’s able to slow the game down and make the right plays.”

Bueckers has looked like the player she was prior to the ACL tear as of late, if not better. She scored 24 points in UConn’s Sweet 16 win over Duke and also made some key defensive plays as she recorded three steals and two blocks.

As both games on Monday’s slate are loaded with stars on both sides, the coaches also can’t help but recognize that the day could serve as another turning point for women’s college basketball. 

“It’s going to crush everything,” USC coach Lindsay Gottlieb said. “I think we would all tell you, right, it’s USC against UConn, and it’s LSU against Iowa. But star power drives narratives in athletics. It’s why the NBA took off, you know, when there were faces to it, going all the way back to Magic and Larry and Michael Jordan.

“I think it’s great for our game. The quality of basketball has been really high and really exciting, but to have stars in these games, I think, makes people tune in.”

FOLLOW Follow your favorites to personalize your FOX Sports experience

Women’s College Basketball

Iowa Hawkeyes

UConn Huskies


Get more from Women’s College Basketball Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more

Source link