Penn State women’s basketball advances to meet Caitlin Clark at Big Ten Tournament

Penn State is firmly on the bubble for the first time in Carolyn Kieger's tenure, but to ensure a spot in the NCAA Tournament, Penn State will need to go through Caitlin Clark and Iowa.
Iowa   s Caitlin Clark (22) dribbles against Penn State
Iowa s Caitlin Clark (22) dribbles against Penn State / Julia Hansen/Iowa City Press-Citizen /

Last night Penn State women’s basketball began the final leg of its journey to the NCAA Tournament. After receiving a bye through the first round, the seventh-seeded Nittany Lions faced No. 10 Wisconsin and dismantled the Badgers 80-56 to set up a meeting with the sport’s biggest star in the quarterfinals. 

On Thursday, Penn State got its 19th win of the year behind a team-high 14 points from sophomore Kylie Lavalle in just 17 minutes off the bench. The Nittany Lions shot 49.2% from the field and outrebounded Wisconsin 44-29. With the win, Carolyn Kieger’s team moved into ESPN Bracketologist Charlie Creme’s last four in. 

When Penn State takes the floor against Caitlin Clark and the second seeded Iowa Hawkeyes on Friday night, it could be the last chance to prove it belongs in the big dance. A win would assure the Nittany Lions a spot in the NCAA Tournament, but they will stay firmly on the bubble with a loss. 

In the last meeting between Penn State and Iowa, it wasn’t Clark who dominated, it was her teammate, Hannah Stuelke, who scored a game-high 47 points in the 111-93 Hawkeyes win. Kieger actually devised an excellent gameplan for Clark, who struggled in the fast-paced game, shooting 8-23 from the field, 4-14 from three, and turning the ball over 12 times.

Kieger and the Nittany Lions forced Clark to become a facilitator, and while she did struggle with turnovers, she also dished out 15 assists and the extra attention allowed Stuekle, who averages 14.4 points on 64.4% from the field to shoot 17-20 (85%). 

Penn State fed off Iowa’s turnovers, but only went 29-81 from the field, while Iowa was up over the 50% mark as a team in the 18-point victory. The Big Ten Tournament has been billed as a collision course between Ohio State and Iowa, who are favored to meet for the third time this season in the championship game, but Penn State could play spoiler and punch their ticket into the tournament for the first time under Kieger.

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