Iowa’s Caitlin Clark excites crowd of women's basketball fans at U of M

Clark is closing in on a major school scoring record held by Pete Maravich

A basketball player attempts a jumpshot.
Guard Caitlin Clark (22) of the Iowa Hawkeyes makes a three-point shot during the game between the Minnesota Gophers and the Iowa Hawkeyes at Williams Arena on Wednesday in Minneapolis.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

The most closely followed player in women’s college basketball toppled one record and is closer to an even bigger goal. Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes handily defeated the Minnesota Gophers 108-60 Wednesday night.

Clark walked into Williams Arena 50 points shy of tying the all-time NCAA scoring record for men and women — and she left the court 18 points from breaking it. But as of Wednesday night, Clark has scored more points than any other woman in history playing for a major college. That record was held by Kansas’s Lynette Woodard with 3,649 points from 1977-81. At that time, women’s basketball was under the purveyance of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.

Minnesota Gophers vs. Iowa Hawkeyes
Mallory Heyer of the Minnesota Gophers makes a three-point shot during the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Williams Arena on Wednesday in Minneapolis.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Three members of the Jahfetson family drove from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, lining up three hours before the game with other early arrivers. The family sported Clark’s No. 22 jerseys.

Martina Jahfetson, 20, has followed Clark since the star was a freshman.

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“She’s a great player, but she’s still unselfish and she gets things done and you can see the hard work that she puts in that, you know, inspires you to want to do the same thing that she can do,” Jahfetson said.

The game sold out in December, the second sell-out in University of Minnesota women’s basketball history.

Clark has been selling out arenas across the country as she breaks record after record. The record to break now belongs to Pete Maravich, who scored 3,667 points before the NCAA included a 3-point shot.

According to reporting by the Associated Press, schools hosting the Hawkeye women see attendance jump by more than 150 percent.

“The number of people who are interested in girls and women’s basketball has exploded. And this is a very special time, and I feel very lucky to be part of it,” said Grant McGinnis, a scout and writer for Prep Girls Hoops. He said Gophers star Lindsay Whalen, as well as Hopkins High School and now UConn standout Paige Bueckers, helped to build elite girls basketball in the state.

In the late 1970s, Janet Karvonen-Montgomery was among the first stars in Minnesota girls basketball as she powered her Otter Tail County team.

“If you talked to people who were around during that time, I think people would say that the New York Mills [Eagles] helped to put girls basketball on the map. We certainly helped to put New York Mills on the map — in addition to Lund fishing boats,” she said.

Karvonen-Montgomery set the state high school girls scoring record with 3,129 points, which held until 1997, and led the Eagles to three state championships.

She said the growth in interest in women’s basketball accelerated over the last few years, and Clark is one reason why.

“She’s a celebrity but she’s also backing it up,” Karvonen-Montgomery said. “And that’s that’s a sign of real, just true greatness as a basketball player.”

Clark dominated against the Gophers, scoring 33 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and 12 assists. She had eight 3-point shots.

The arena was brimming with fans, many of them in Iowa Hawkeyes gear and carrying Caitlin Clark signs.

Minnesota Gophers vs. Iowa Hawkeyes
Guard Caitlin Clark (22) of the Iowa Hawkeyes drives to the basket during the game between the Minnesota Gophers and the Iowa Hawkeyes at Williams Arena.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

“It’s cool just to see the impact that we’ve had across the country, whether we’re in Charlotte, whether we’re on the east coast at Maryland and Rutgers, it’s always been the same. There’s always been so many people cheering for us," Clark said.

Clark said approaching the record held by Maravich was “super special,” but that her “first goal” was to beat Ohio State on Sunday in Iowa City.

“It’s super special just to be in the same realm of a lot of these really talented players that have done a lot of really great things, for not just men’s basketball or just women’s basketball, but just basketball in general.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.