Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) goes up for a layup...

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) goes up for a layup against Colorado guard Tameiya Sadler during the second half of a Sweet 16 college basketball game of the NCAA tournament, Friday, March 24, 2023, in Seattle. Credit: AP/Stephen Brashear

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The first two rounds of the women's NCAA Tournament are the last chances for Iowa’s Caitlin Clark to play at home, and the last opportunity for Clark and fellow starters Gabbie Marshall and Kate Martin in the postseason.

They prefer not to think of it that way.

“I feel like that’s not really how we’re approaching it,” Clark said Friday. "I feel like we’re approaching it like this is very businesslike. We are here to win, get back to the Final Four. I feel like if you approach it in a way of, ‘This is the end, this is our last time playing on our home court, this is our last time hosting,’ you could get too caught up in the emotions of it.”

Marshall, a fifth-year guard, “agrees with everything she said.”

“But at the same time, we know this is our last tournament, as well, and I think that just brings an extra motivation for the three of us," Marshall said.

The Hawkeyes (29-4), the No. 1 seed in the Albany 2 Regional, face 16th-seeded Holy Cross (21-12) in Saturday’s first-round game. No. 8 seed West Virginia (24-7) faces ninth-seeded Princeton (25-4) in the other first-round game.

Iowa made it to last season’s national championship game, losing to LSU, and played all of this season as a top-6 team. The entire home season was a sellout, and almost all of the Hawkeyes’ road games were as well. The Saturday and Monday sessions at Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena are also sellouts.

“Pressure? There’s no pressure,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said, laughing.

Bluder has said the Hawkeyes have faced an “NCAA Tournament atmosphere” all season, and that includes all of the attention placed on Clark, who became college basketball’s all-time leading scorer this season.

Clark said the season has been “really fun" even with all of the attention.

“I guess that’s the thing where I find kind of peace in, is like I don’t feel like this is a job,” she said. “I don’t feel like I have to go out there and score 40 points a night. I just go out there and have fun.”

The Hawkeyes haven’t played since winning the Big Ten Tournament championship on March 10.

“It took us a while to get our feet back underneath us, mentally and physically,” Bluder said. “But now it seems like it’s been forever. This week has really been dragging on a little bit.”

Holy Cross is coming off Thursday’s 72-45 win over UT-Martin in a First Four game. The Crusaders had 12 3-pointers, seven from guard Cara McCormack.

Holy Cross has been in Iowa City since Tuesday. The Crusaders got a tour of Iowa’s football facility and Kinnick Stadium — forward Janelle Allen’s brother, Brian, is a defensive end for the Hawkeyes — and went to Tuesday’s men's NIT game between Iowa and Kansas State.

“We feel like this is a second home at this point,” said Holy Cross coach Maureen MaGarity.

MaGarity knows what her team will be facing against the Hawkeyes and a crowd of almost 15,000.

“I don’t think there’s anything to prepare you for what we’ll face,” MaGarity said. “The stage we’re going to be on, the crowd — it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

West Virginia coach Mark Kellogg was asked about the viral online video from Selection Sunday, when Kellogg told a group of fans the goal was, “Let’s win one and let’s send Caitlin Clark packing.”

“I wasn’t trying to do anything other than we had a group of people there that asked all the questions and we talked it all through and then that came out,” Kellogg said. “You know how social media works. I’d see it, and the clip just keeps getting shorter and shorter and shorter and shorter, and then finally by the end of it it was ‘Mark Kellogg is calling out Caitlin Clark’ or whatever.”

Kellogg said Clark was “a generational talent.”

“We would be fortunate to get the opportunity to play against her, but we’ve got plenty of business first,” he said.

Princeton, the Ivy League champion, is playing in its fifth consecutive NCAA Tournament. The challenge for the Tigers is handling West Virginia’s pressure defense.

“They’re athletic, they have quick hands,” said Princeton coach Carla Berube. “They run that 2-2-1 press, that 1-2-1-1 press, they make it really difficult. It’s certainly something we’ve been working on to make sure we have a good plan in place.”


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