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Caitlin Clark fueled a Big Ten Tournament sellout, but women's basketball already gets big crowds

Fans pack Williams Arena to see Caitlin Clark make history
Fans pack Williams Arena to see Caitlin Clark make history 02:08

The full allotment of tickets for the Big Ten women's basketball tournament was sold nearly two weeks ago, assuring the attendance total will more than double the event record set last year.

These teams aren't about to be awestruck by large and loud crowds.

From Iowa to Maryland, with Indiana and Ohio State in between, the conference has continued to stage well-attended games in a trend that suggests it has staying power long after Caitlin Clark — now the career-scoring leader among all major college players — launches her last college 3-pointer.

"They're not just here for me. I'm sure I help, but at the end of the day, we have a really great team and a really great culture and that's what makes it so fun," Clark said Sunday after Iowa's sold-out home slate concluded with a win over Big Ten regular-season champion Ohio State.

The third-ranked Hawkeyes (26-4, 15-3) finished second in conference play. They enter the bracket in a quarterfinal game on Friday night against either seventh-seeded Penn State or 10th-seeded Wisconsin.

RELATED: Iowa's Caitlin Clark gets surprise from Minnesota Lynx legend Maya Moore before breaking scoring record

The Big Ten could not have timed its decision to hold the tournament in Minneapolis any better, with the host arena Target Center a convenient drive of less than five hours from Iowa's campus for each of Clark's final two seasons in black and gold.

The Hawkeyes beat the Buckeyes in the championship game last year in front of a Big Ten Tournament-record crowd of 9,505. The five-day total of 47,923 in 2023 will be smashed this time, with a final figure of more than 109,000 expected. That's an average of about 15,500 per session. Tickets are only available on the secondary market.

"We've played in environments like that all year, so we'll be ready for it," said Jacy Sheldon, the star guard for fourth-ranked Ohio State and the conference's third-leading scorer.

The Buckeyes (26-4, 16-2) face either eighth-seeded Maryland or ninth-seeded Illinois in their quarterfinal on Friday. Iowa has two consecutive Big Ten Tournament titles to defend, but like Ohio State the overarching goal this weekend is to win enough to secure a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament.

"We've done a great job of handling success when we've won for, basically, two months straight," Buckeyes coach Kevin McGuff said. "Now we've got to handle a tough loss."

The two-game first round is Wednesday, followed by a four-game second round on Thursday. Indiana and Michigan State grabbed the coveted double byes along with Ohio State and Iowa.

That Buckeyes-Hawkeyes rematch in the championship game on Sunday is far from a given.

The 12th-ranked Hoosiers (24-4, 15-3) had a 17-point win over Iowa on Feb. 22. Star center Mackenzie Holmes shot 17 for 18 from the floor in wins over Northwestern and Maryland last week, fueling their quest to secure a spot as one of the 16 hosts for first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games. Holmes had to leave the last game with an aggravation of the left knee injury that has hampered her throughout her career.

The Spartans are on a five-game winning streak, boasting the sixth-best scoring average (84.5 points per game) in NCAA Division I play that trails only the nation-leading Hawkeyes (92.7) in the Big Ten.

Beside Ohio State, Iowa, Indiana and Michigan State, Nebraska ought to be a lock for the NCAA Tournament. Michigan and Maryland are bubble teams that could use a win or two this week to be safe. ESPN's latest projection has Penn State as one of the last four teams to miss the cut for at-large bids.

The Big Ten accounts for five of the top 15 home attendance figures in the country. Iowa (14,998 per game) sold out the entire season and might well have topped South Carolina (16,489) for the national lead if Carver-Hawkeye Arena were bigger. Indiana (10,038) is fifth, Ohio State (7,559) is ninth, Maryland (7,545) is 10th and Nebraska (6,088) is 15th.

The Hawkeyes also triggered a sellout of every true road game they played this season. Their visit to Ohio State drew 18,660 fans, a program record for the Buckeyes.

The Big Ten has five of the top 16 offensive teams in the nation, with Penn State (seventh), Ohio State (15th) and Indiana (16th). Clark is by far the individual leader at 32.3 points per game.

Last week, Clark passed Lynette Woodard for the all-time scoring record in major women's college basketball and overtook Pete Maravich as the career NCAA leader for either gender with 3,685 points.

With 16 more points, Clark will crack the all-time top 10 for all levels. Steve Platt, who played for Huntington College in Indiana in National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics competition, had 3,700 career points from 1971-74.

Clark has six triple-doubles this season. She set the NCAA single-season record with 162 made 3-pointers and counting and the Big Ten career record with 509.

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