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Can anyone slow down Caitlin Clark? Veronica Burton shares her insight ahead of Final Four

How do you defend Caitlin Clark? WNBA player shares insight ahead of Iowa-UConn Final Four
How do you defend Caitlin Clark? WNBA player shares insight ahead of Iowa-UConn Final Four 08:19

BOSTON -- Caitlin Clark has etched her name in the history books as one of the best to ever play college basketball, and not just on the women's side. She's the all-time leading scorer in NCAA history, and this weekend, she'll look to lead the Iowa Hawkeyes to a title. 

But standing in their way is a resurgent UConn Huskies team, whom they'll square off against Friday night in the Final Four. Led by Paige Bueckers and Geno Auriemma's system (which has already brought 11 championships to Storrs), Friday night's matchup should be another outstanding game in this year's women's tournament.

Clark has been playing at an absurd level all season long. She leads Iowa at 32.0 points per game, and is coming off a 41-point outburst against LSU in the Elite 8. Even a UConn defense that allowed just 56.8 points per game off 35.4 percent shooting is going to struggle to keep Clark off the board.

Forget about stopping her. That just isn't going to happen. But does UConn -- or NC State/South Carolina -- have any chance at slowing Clark down? 

Who better to ask than someone who was tasked with that very difficult endeavor just a few years ago. Newton native Veronica Burton (the daughter of WBZ-TV's Steve Burton) is now a stud defender in the WNBA for the Dallas Wings. She was a three-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year during her career at Northwestern, which had her face off against Clark five times.

Two of those matchups came in Clark's freshman season, but she was still a skilled and dangerous scorer. Burton was 3-2 in her career against Clark, and helped the Wildcats hold the prolific scorer to 21.6 points and 6.4 assists per game. Clark shot 41 percent from the floor and just 34 percent from deep over those five games.

While Burton has her hands full in the WNBA, it would be impossible not to follow Clark's ascension into one of the greatest college basketball players of all time. And Burton has seen Clark take her game to new levels since the last time they squared off in the 2022 Big Ten Tournament.

"You could definitely see the evolution, and it's a testament to her and her work ethic," Burton told WBZ-TV's Dan Roche. "From the first time we played her compared to the last, you see her get better and better every year. Watching her now and the level she's playing at is ridiculous and insane, but it's a testament to the work she puts into it and her commitment to her craft."

Burton and crew held Clark to just eight points off 3-for-12 shooting and eight assists in that first matchup.

"She was leading the country in scoring and assists at that point. Although she was only a freshman she was definitely leaving her mark on the women's basketball world and the Big Ten," recalls Burton. "Defense was my thing, for sure, but I would also say it was our thing at Northwestern and our identity. 

"We didn't play man-to-man matchup, so it wasn't one person taking on the role of defending Caitlin Clark. We played a matchup zone and our plan was frustrate her and to be physical with her," continued Burton. "That was something we looked to implement, and always know where she was on the floor. Whether she was on the logo or in the paint, we needed to know where she was on the floor."

Clark lost her first three matchups against Northwestern, but started to figure out how to play against their defensive approach. She put up 30 points in a losing effort the third time she faced off against Burton and the Wildcats, and then won her final two matchups, including a win in the Big Ten tournament in 2022. Clark had just 19 points that game, but dished out six assists and pulled down 12 rebounds for the victorious Hawkeyes.

Burton says the best bet for UConn on Friday night is to let Clark score her points, but take away her secondary options.

"You have to know that she is going to get hers at the end of the day. You can't get deflated when she hits a crazy step-back three or an off-the-ball screen. Don't let that get you mentally checked out. Put an emphasis on the physicality and getting her frustrated," said Burton. "What makes her so good is her ability to see the floor and pass. You can try to get the ball out of her hands and limit her scoring which not a lot of people have done, but then she'll get 13 assists. It is tough to take her out because she's such a versatile player. 

"I would say you have to mix things up with her too. Letting her get comfortable and see one defensive scheme the whole time -- I know LSU was in a drop coverage, which a lot of people questioned -- it makes it so difficult. If she comes off a screen and can see the floor, it's game over," added Burton. "She is going to score, but try to limit her impact to the best of your ability."

With Bueckers pacing an incredibly well-balanced UConn team and coming off a 28-point performance against USC, the Huskies will have a chance to send Clark and the Hawkeyes home. Whatever the result, Burton says it will be one epic matchup.

"I don't know what the results are going to be. I've seen a lot of Paige on the court and I'm excited to see what they have in store. Geno is a phenomenal coach so I think it would be silly to rule them out. Same with [South Carolina's] Dawn Staley -- an undefeated season. She's an incredible coach, so I think they'll both have good game plans and it won't come down to just one player on the court.

"It's phenomenal for women's basketball, whatever the result may be," she said.

And whenever this chapter of Clark's career comes to an end, Burton cannot wait to cross paths with her at the WNBA level.

"It's been neat to see her growth and how she embraces it. It can be a lot at times, with all the sold out arenas at every place and every away game she plays in, to have that attention on you all the time," said Burton. "But she has handled it very gracefully. You love to see the game growing and the media and viewership continue to increase. It's a great time for women's sports and women's basketball. 

"As she continues her career in the W, I wish her all the best," said Burton. "She's going to continue to grow her game, I don't see that being limited. I'm excited to play against her and compete against her again."

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