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There's a New England tie to Caitlin Clark's Final Four trip with Iowa

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BOSTON -- Caitlin Clark got some revenge on Monday night when she led the Iowa Hawkeyes to a victory over the LSU Tigers, the team that eliminated Iowa last year in the national championship.

When Clark next takes the court, she'll be able to exact some personal revenge, too.

Next up for the Hawkeyes will be Geno Auriemma, Paige Bueckers and the UConn Huskies on Friday night in Cleveland in the Final Four. In her four years at Iowa, one could say that Clark has made a name for herself and established a legacy that should live on for decades. As the all-time leading scorer in Division I history, Clark just needs to add a national championship to cap off her career.

To do that, she'll need to get past the the UConn Huskies, who happen to be the team that Clark dreamed of playing for when she was younger.

That much was revealed in a profile of Clark written by Wright Thompson for ESPN last month, and it certainly adds an interesting angle to this weekend's matchup.

"In her bathroom at home in Des Moines she kept a caricature she got at an amusement park that shows her wearing a UConn uniform," Thompson wrote.

Later in the story:

"Her dream school was, like everyone else, UConn. She was growing up and learning for the first time about being watched, about reputation. A lot of college coaches watched the same body language sequences [high school coach Kristin] Meyer did. Most didn't mind. Dowling's open gyms filled with the best of the best coaches in the country. One absence was conspicuous, though.

"Geno never came," Meyer said.

Thompson shared that Clark's college decision was down to Iowa, Notre Dame, Iowa State, Texas, Oregon and Oregon State. UConn was not among them, because UConn didn't make an offer.

"Honestly, it was more I wanted them to recruit me to say I got recruited. I loved UConn," Clark told Thompson. "I think they're the coolest place on Earth, and I wanted to say I got recruited by them. They called my AAU coach a few times, but they never talked to my family and never talked to me."  

That same story did spotlight a brief interaction that Auriemma had with Clark after UConn defeated Iowa in the Sweet 16 in 2021, at the end of Clark's freshman season.

"In the postgame chaos Caitlin saw a familiar face approaching. It was Geno Auriemma," Thompson wrote. "He told her how great she'd played and thanked her for her contribution to their sport. It felt like a victory."

Clark added: "He could see the greatness in me when I was a freshman, before everything unfolded when I was a junior."

Caitlin Clark, Geno Auriemma
Geno Auriemma speaks with Caitlin Clark following the Huskies' 92-72 win in the Sweet Sixteen in 2021. Carmen Mandato / Getty Images

That UConn team ended up losing in the Final Four, and then losing in the championship game a year later and losing in the Sweet 16 last year. All told, the Huskies have gone 122-19 over the last four years while Clark was at Iowa, and they're now in the Final Four. So the Huskies haven't been struggling, per se. But they're certainly not where they were from 1999-2016, when they won 10 national championships, had five undefeated seasons and three one-loss seasons while dominating the women's game. (That run was followed up with back-to-back 36-1 seasons and three straight Final Four appearances.)

But suffice it to say, the Huskies would have been much better over the last four years if they had one of the best college players of all time hitting threes from all over the court.

Auriemma is certainly aware of the history as he leads the Huskies into Friday's matchup, and he jokingly tried to shower Clark with praise after UConn's win over USC in the Elite Eight.

"I hope Caitlin Clark had a personal agenda against LSU. And I know there's nothing personal between me and her, so I don't need to see her drop 50 on us next weekend," Auriemma said. "So I love her, I think she's the best player -- forget I ever said Paige [Bueckers] is the best player in the country. I think [Clark] is the best player of all time. I don't know whoever said that I said that Paige is the best player in the country."

Clark was incredible on Monday night against LSU, playing all 40 minutes and scoring 41 points with 12 assists and seven rebounds. She hit nine 3-pointers and added two steals and a block in Iowa's 94-87 victory. That ESPN profile likened her competitive attitude to that of Tiger Woods and Joe DiMaggio. So while there may be no admission that a win over UConn in this spot would provide an extra level of sweetness for Clark, it just may happen that Auriemma's wish is not granted come Friday night.

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