Opinion | Don’t leave stars in blowouts

It’s a bad idea to leave stars like Iowa women’s basketball guard Caitlin Clark in blowout games for a measly milestone.


Matt Sindt

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark passes the ball to forward Monika Czinano during a women’s basketball game between Iowa and Dartmouth at Carver-Hawkeyes Arena in Iowa City on Wednesday, Dec 21, 2022. The Hawkeyes defeated the Big Green 92-54.

Sam Knupp, Sports Reporter

Leaving a player in a game to reach a milestone is ill-advised in most cases.

But that’s exactly what Iowa women’s basketball head coach Lisa Bluder has done with junior guard Caitlin Clark on multiple occasions.

On Jan. 11, Iowa was leading Northwestern by more than 30 points late in the fourth quarter. Every player who had started the game could be seen sitting on the bench except for Clark. She just needed one more rebound to pick up her eighth career triple double.

Clark spent a solid five minutes crashing the boards on both offense and defense — something she doesn’t typically do — in an attempt to get her 10th rebound. The junior finally came out of the game with 1:32 remaining, which was still one rebound short of a triple double.

Bluder defended her decision to leave the potential national player of the year in the game following the contest.

“It’s hard, but a triple-double is so special,” Bluder said. “It is so hard to get. I tell her what I need her to do, I need her to go get a rebound. Again, there is risk involved in that, but there’s risk in walking into a restaurant downtown. I want my players to have those kinds of accolades if they’re that close.”

I get where Bluder is coming from, but this is Clark we’re talking about. She’s one of the best players in the nation. If she gets injured, your season stops looking nearly as pretty as it once did.

The West Des Moines native already holds the all-time Big Ten record for career triple-doubles. It’s not like getting a triple-double is a unique experience for her.

Even putting injuries aside, you’re taking game experience away from other players who could use it to develop their skills and confidence by leaving Clark on the floor. Molly Davis, for example, averaged more than 15 points per game during her time at Central Michigan. This season at Iowa, she’s averaging less than five. Why not get her on the floor in garbage time to boost her stats and build some confidence against a beaten team?

But, after all, I could forgive the decision. It was one game, and it’s not like that scenario comes up very often.

Except it happened again three days later. The Hawkeyes were up by more than 40 against Penn State on Jan. 14, and Clark was one assist short of a double-double. So, despite the game being well-in-hand, Clark stayed on the floor with four substitutes and spammed passes into the paint. With 4:35 left, Clark assisted a layup from Sharon Goodman and was promptly taken out.

No one asked Bluder why she left Clark in for so long, because we all knew the answer.  She wanted Clark to complete the milestone of getting a double-double — The junior already had six on the season at that point, so it’s hardly a rare accomplishment for her. 

Had it been senior Kate Martin, freshman Hannah Stuelke, or just about anyone else left in those games, I’d be more understanding. Double-doubles and triple-doubles are rarer for them.

If Clark needed a few more points or assists to set a record, I’d be fine with it because that would be special for her. Triple-doubles and double-doubles are not.

Leaving the best player in the nation in a blowout game, in most cases, brings unnecessary risk for a rather small reward.

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