These are desperate pushes for most players. For Caitlin Clark, it’s money.
Lisa Bluder, the Iowa women’s basketball coach, had developed a working definition of a good shot attempt over her four decades of coaching experience. A player must be within range, on pace and unchallenged.
And then, in 2020, a 6-foot point guard named Caitlin Clark arrived on campus — and that definition crumbled.
Clark, who led Division I in making 3-point shots in two of his three seasons at Iowa, regularly shoots from mere steps inside the halfway line, sometimes off-balance, and often at the above the defenders’ outstretched arms, challenging Bluder’s three pillars.
“I definitely had to change that,” Bluder said. “But she’s a special player, so she has special opportunities.”
Clark became one of college basketball’s biggest stars, captivating audiences and frustrating coaches (sometimes even her own) with her long-range shooting accuracy. Clark is a finalist for the Naismith Award for National Player of the Year 2023, and her dynamic offensive play has Iowa (30-6) in the Round of 16 for the third time in the past four NCAA tournaments. The Hawkeyes will face sixth-seeded Colorado (27-8) on Friday in Seattle.
“She can score from anywhere, and I mean anywhere,” North Carolina State coach Wes Moore said after Clark scored 45 points, including seven 3-pointers. , against his team earlier this season. “I don’t know how you stop it. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve never seen anything like it. »
In a recent interview, Clark said her favorite time to take 3-pointers is when the game is in transition: on a rebound, a steal, or even an inbound pass if she can push the ball downfield quickly. Clark’s efficiency in transition helped Iowa rank eighth in Division I in quick break points. (There’s even a 10-minute video of Clark taking jumpers in transition.)
The 3-point transition is another shot that coaches have generally avoided considering it has a low success rate, but the old rules of basketball never mattered to Clark.
“When I’m in the gym, I shoot 3 transitions, a bit behind the line and on the move,” Clark, 21, said.
“These aren’t just shots that I get in the game and put in place,” she said, adding, “These are shots that I continually work on and try to refine. “
The 3-point arc is just over 22 feet from the edge at the top of the key, and most defenders start stalking Clark from there, forcing her to shoot further and further. But Clark is even more effective on attempts from 25 to 30 feet from the edge than she is on 3-pointers from under 25 feet. On deeper attempts, she’s shooting 43.8%, nearly 14 percentage points above the Division I average of 30.1%, according to CBB Analytics, a website that tracks player statistics. She has attempted 20 more runs from the deepest zone than she has closer to the line.
“Sometimes for her a 25 or 27 is a lot more open than a 24,” Bluder said. “So, you know, why not, right?”
CBB Analytics treats shots over 30 feet as shots, usually shots taken at the end of quarters or games that otherwise wouldn’t happen. But for Clark, shooting from this far has become somewhat routine. She’s shooting 30% this season from over 30 feet, making 10 of her 33 attempts – six more scores than the next closest player.
“It’s going to force us to change what we see as uprisings,” said Nicholas Canova, the founder of CBB Analytics. “We will definitely push back what we consider a boost this summer because of players like her.”
Clark has been pushing his own basketball limits since elementary school. During her early years, she remembers being frustrated that her father wouldn’t allow her to take deeper shots, instead forcing her to practice layups and mid-range shooting. It wasn’t until Clark was around 10 that she finally started taking 3-pointers, often practicing with her two brothers in their driveway before school.
But soon she needed more space for deeper shots. So her father removed more grass from the family lawn to make room for his daughter’s range.
On the driveway, with guidance from his father, Clark perfected the form that has become so effective. For her, the most important part of the shot is how she positions her legs and feet. As she sprints past defenders and shoots from long range, her father’s constant directives of “feet under your body” go through her head. “When I miss, I’m usually off balance,” Clark said.
But Clark can still devastate his opponents even when that ideal form is dropped. In a game against Indiana last month, she caught a pass and kicked the ball for the rim when time expired, her left leg swinging in the air before landing on her right. The shot went in to give Iowa the win.
“I haven’t had a lot of time to prepare, honestly,” Clark said with a laugh. “It’s the kind of thing you just hope you can get up and walk in.”
The most memorable game of Clark’s career for Clark and Bluder came in February 2022 against Michigan. Iowa had just seven healthy players, and Clark said Bluder gave her the “green light” to bend the good shot rule even more than she already had.
Iowa lost, but Clark scored 46 points, including 25 in the fourth quarter. Suddenly, she stopped inside Michigan’s blue “M” logo on the half court. Clark’s video the shoot went viral on social networks.
“I think that’s when the whole world got it,” Bluder said.
Since then, his stock has steadily increased, with countless big plays full of deep shots – although Bluder has had to call on Clark from time to time.
When Clark takes a deep 3-point transition that doesn’t even meet Bluder’s revamped definition of a good attempt, the coach uses the phrase “time and score” to remind Clark his shot wasn’t necessary. in this situation. Bluder pointed to instances where Clark hit a big 3 or two and fired another, either too early in the shot clock or too deep even for her, which can turn into transition points for the opposing team. .
“If she does one, you better believe the next time she comes down she’ll take it back,” Bluder said, adding, “But sometimes, you know, you gotta take the good with the bad and the bad. with the good with it.