What Did Kim Mulkey Do Wrong vs Caitlin Clark? What Did Geno Auriemma Do Different to Stop Iowa Powerhouse in Final 4’s First Half?

Published 04/06/2024, 11:52 AM EDT

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Where there is Caitlin Clark, there is excitement, thrill, and a passion for basketball. The Iowa Hawkeyes faced the Louisiana State University Tigers in what was a rematch of the NCAA 2023 Finale. This time however the result was different. In a high-scoring match, the Hawkeyes trumped the LSU by a 94-87 margin. Much to the disappointment of the LSU fans, the larger question was where did they go wrong in their pursuit of the title. And one cannot help but turn towards HC Kim Mulkey. 

The major problem with Kim Mulkey’s strategy in stopping Clark was that she did not give much weight to screening her. While the LSU Tigers tried their best to defend the basket, the team faltered since they gave open space to Clark and allowed her to move and get into shape to pot her famous three-pointers.

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The Iowa shot 13-for-31 three-pointers whereas LSU could only basket 8 three-pointers. Iowa attempting 31 three-pointers is a testament to the fact that Clark & Co. relied on their three-pointers, something that LSU couldn’t which also points out that the basket was being defended but the Iowa players were not screened.

Another problem with the LSU was that when they were guarding Clark instead of pushing her back. They gave her open space to move to the middle of the floor where there was much help available. If LSU did not open up the help, they gave Clark the benefit to go through the layup line. One of the major factors for that was the secondary defense players not being proactive enough to screen Clark. They were confused regarding Clark’s next steps and hence were not active enough to screen her from the open sides.

A similar problem of lack of proactiveness was noticed when Clark was in transitional offense. The LSU players didn’t try hard enough to sprint back and tactically screen their opponents. All these mistakes in the end culminated in LSU losing the match and can partly be attributed to Coach Mulkey’s role in the formations. The Huskies coach Auriemma on the other hand was mindful of the basics which helped his team successfully defend at least in the first half.

What did Geno Auriemma do in the first half?

The aforementioned points were however taken care of by the University of Connecticut Huskies coach Geno Auriemma. He screened Clark well and blocked the Hawkeyes’ main player in the game. The Hawkeyes throughout the season had a major dependence on Clark and UConn just did the right thing to stop Clark in the first half.

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USA Today via Reuters

They didn’t give Clark any open space and screened her well. Credits must be given to Auriemma for a solid defense that looked to hamper Clark’s game. In the first half the Huskies led by a distinct 32-26 margin. They had put up screens and defenses in the right place.

Another important thing to note was they forced Clark into her shell and made the other Iowa players take the dominant stage. Initially, the Hawkeyes found it difficult to plan a strategy against UConn. And hence the match was equally balanced. It was only in the fourth quarter that the Hawkeyes were able to trump the Huskies.

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The highest point scorer for the Hawkeyes in this game was their forward Hannah Stuelke and this proved that Iowa can still win a match even when Clark has to take a backseat; something for opponents to be mindful of. Going ahead for the finale, the Hawkeyes will have one of the most decisive clashes since the Gamecocks are a team that relies mostly on teamwork compared to Clark’s dominant lead in Hawkeyes. Thus, this Finale will be a game between collectivism and individualism. Fans would be excited to know the ultimate winner.

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Written by:

Ritvan Pande

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Ritvan Pande is an NBA writer at EssentiallySports. He covers Perspectives and Classics as the expert in the longform coverage. Inspired by the fabled Chicago Bulls trio of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, Ritvan captures the staggering court encounters in the same competitive style.
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Edited by:

Shivatmika Manvi