Iowa women’s basketball’s senior class ‘cherishing every moment’ heading into final game

Starters Caitlin Clark, Kate Martin, and Gabbie Marshall only have 40 minutes left in an Iowa uniform.

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Ayrton Breckenridge
Iowa guard Caitlin Clark reacts to an officials call during a NCAA Tournament Final Four game between No. 1 Iowa and No. 3 UConn at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio, on Friday, April 5, 2024. The Hawkeyes defeated the Huskies, 71-69.

CLEVELAND — On Sunday, the Iowa women’s basketball team will say goodbye to three starters who have given everything and more to the program.

Caitlin Clark, Gabbie Marshall, and Kate Martin only have 40 minutes left in an Iowa uniform, and it’s arguably the biggest four quarters of basketball the trio will ever play together.

In a rematch from last year’s Final Four, Iowa will face undefeated South Carolina with a chance to clinch the Hawkeyes’ first national title. Last season, the Hawkeyes ruined the Gamecocks’ perfect season with a 77-73 win in the Final Four.

“I think to bring back a national title to the University of Iowa would be super special. Obviously, it’s special in its own regard making back-to-back national title games,” Clark said Saturday. “I know everybody would come up to me before the season started and was like, ‘Only one thing left to do.’ I don’t think people realize how hard it is to get to this point, so I’m just proud of our group.”

Since Clark declared for the WNBA Draft, each interaction between her and the rest of the team has become that much more special.

Head coach Lisa Bluder said she has been more intentional about remembering little moments, and she was happy to have time to eat breakfast with Clark on Saturday morning.

“Can she still change her mind? Is that possible? I don’t know. I would like that very much,” Bluder said about Clark declaring for the draft, prompting laughs throughout the press conference room.

In the words of Bluder, everyone on the team matters. The major impact Clark has had on the state of Iowa and women’s basketball is undeniable. But it’s not just her deep 3-pointers or no-look passes that brought more eyes to Iowa basketball. It’s the contagious joy and trust Clark and her teammates exude on the court.

The point guard said a lot of people “would kill” to be in Iowa’s position right now, so her team needs to enjoy every moment with a smile. No. 22 added she can’t go into Sunday’s game dwelling that it’s her last at Iowa.

She compared her feelings around the championship game to senior night during the regular season and the team’s final contest in Carver-Hawkeye Arena against West Virginia.

“You’re so focused on competing and enjoying every single second that you have and helping your team win that you’re not too caught up in ‘This is the last time I’m going to put on this uniform. This is the last time I’m going to be playing in this arena,’” Clark said. “That’s not how we view things around our program. It’s, like, you’re competing for this opportunity. You love this opportunity.”

Clark, who’s broken about every record imaginable this season, said she doesn’t want her legacy to be remembered by how many points she scored or games she won.

She wants to be remembered as a role model for the younger generation, as someone who encourages athletes of all ages to chase their dreams. Clark said she would still be proud of her Iowa career even if she doesn’t win a ring.

“Last year I felt like we gave so much joy. Even through losing, we gave so much joy to the people of Iowa and really to people across the country, according to the letters and e-mails that I got,” Bluder said. “I want to do that again. But I could do it with a W too.”

Martin, the longest-tenured Hawkeye on the roster, grew up with an Iowa women’s basketball poster hanging in her bedroom. It was a dream of hers to play for Bluder, to wear Iowa across her chest while competing in the game she loves. Nicknamed “The Glue” for holding the Hawkeyes together in times of both success and strife, Martin isn’t afraid to hold her teammates accountable and is respected by everyone in the locker room.

Clark said she wouldn’t be the player she is today without someone like Martin by her side. The pair has started 138 consecutive games together, the longest streak by any Division I duo in the last 25 years.

Martin said she’s not “too sad or emotional right now” heading into her final game. This entire tournament, the sixth year has been “feeling at ease.”

“Me and Kate are wired so similarly that we get each other on a different level,” Clark said. “She truly cares about and loves every person she’s been teammates with. I know it will be special for her to take the court one more time in an Iowa jersey … And I know when we walk off that court tomorrow, win or lose, we’ll have a lot to hold our heads up about. I’m just grateful to not only have a teammate like her but a friend like her.”

Not far behind the duo’s 138-game streak is fifth-year Gabbie Marshall, who has started the last 135 contests for Iowa. Known for her gritty defensive performances, the one who always goes up against the opposing team’s best scorer, Marshall said Iowa’s senior class has built a bond that “will last forever.”

Marshall has come up with clutch play after clutch play throughout the postseason, including a game-sealing block against Nebraska to win the Big Ten Championship and drawing an illegal moving screen against UConn to propel the Hawkeyes to the final possible day of the season.

“I am surrounded by so many great girls who love the game, are great role models, really want to win, and will do whatever it takes to win,” Marshall said.

And, of course, there’s Sharon Goodman and Molly Davis.

Goodman started at the beginning of the season but hasn’t seen any minutes down the stretch. The forward said she’s made sure not to handle the situation “the way that most people thought I would.”

Goodman was recognized for her contributions off the court on Wednesday night, earning the Elite 90 Award for the second straight season. The honor is given to the athlete with the highest GPA of all players competing in the Final Four. As a health studies major with aspirations to be a nurse, Goodman currently carries a 4.0 GPA and will be graduating this May.

“I really tried to be deliberate and intentional about it,” Goodman said of her decreased minutes. “Regardless of whether I’m on the court or not, I still wanted to be the same person I feel like I’m called to be.”

Davis suffered an injury in the final regular season game against Ohio State and hasn’t touched the floor this postseason. Initially, Bluder thought Davis would be healthy enough to help the Hawkeyes come tournament time. It’s been an emotional end to Davis’s collegiate career, who had started every game this season for Iowa before getting injured.

A video posted by Chelsie Brown on X, formerly known as Twitter, circulated on Thursday. Davis was putting up shots during practice for the first time since her injury, and Bluder pulled her aside and sat with her on the bench. As Bluder whispered in Davis’s ear and put her around the fifth-year’s shoulder, the guard immediately started wiping tears. It’s unknown exactly what was said, but it seemed to be bad news about Davis’s chances of playing this weekend.

Bluder said she “would love” to get Davis, who has become a fan favorite, on the floor for a couple of seconds in the national championship.

“I would love for Molly to have that opportunity. She deserves it. My heart aches for that kid,” Bluder said of Davis. “Basketball is so important to her, and to have this happen to her … I know how much it’s hurting her.”

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