‘She went 1-of-2’: Iowa women’s basketball’s Caitlin Clark, Louisville’s Jeff Walz share Team USA history

The pair worked together on the 2019 FIBA U19 Team USA World Cup team, and Clark was almost the deciding factor in the gold-medal game.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark speaks to the media during the NCAA Elite Eight press conferences at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, WA, on Sat., March 25, 2023. “Obviously it’s not close to the state of Iowa, but I still feel like we have really good support here.” Clark said. “We get to play in a city that loves women’s basketball.”

Chloe Peterson, Sports Editor

The first thing Jeff Walz said about Iowa women’s basketball junior guard Caitlin Clark during Saturday’s media availability is that “She went 1-of-2.”

Walz was Clark’s coach on the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup Team, a gold-medal winning squad.

But the difference between gold and silver almost came down to Clark’s free-throw shooting. Ahead of the gold medal game against Australia in Thailand, Walz told the then-17-year-old Clark that she would be shooting free throws near the end of the game if Australia committed an intentional or flagrant foul.

“I remember he came up to me before the game when we were warming up,” Clark said. “He’s like, ‘If we get in the situation where I’ve got to put someone in off the bench to shoot free throws, I’m picking you.’  And I’m like, ‘Oh, okay, whatever, that’s not going to happen.’”

Then, former Kentucky women’s basketball player Rhyne Howard got hit in the face near the end of the game.

While Team USA was down, Clark was up. Clark came off the bench for Team USA in 2019 — she was the youngest one on the team and hadn’t yet started her collegiate career with the Hawkeyes.

“She made the hard one, which was the first one, and then missed our second one,” Walz said. “But then we got the ball out of bounds on the side. It was our gold medal game, and we tied it up on a side lines and got a stop, went to overtime and won.”

And the player who made the shot to go to overtime was none other than Louisville’s Hailey Van Lith, who is currently leading the Cardinals through the NCAA Tournament. 

“I stayed in the game, and he drew up a play, and Hailey Van Lith made a bucket to tie it and send it to overtime and we ended up winning gold,” Clark said. “It was pretty incredible and, honestly, we probably should have lost the game and won silver.”

But Van Lith powered Team USA to a victory — similar to how she’s pushed Louisville to its fifth straight Elite Eight in the 2023 NCAA Tournament.

Van Lith, a Wenatchee, Washington, native, is averaging 19.5 points per game on 41.1 percent shooting throughout the 2022-23 season. 

And she and Clark have something in common — they’re gutsy players on the court.

“She’s somebody that plays with a ton of energy and passion and that’s what I admire most,” Clark said of Van Lith. “I’m somebody that plays with that same level of passion and energy and excitement. She’s feisty. I think that’s what I love about her. Really good mid-range jump shot, really good attacking the rim. But I think more than anything, she’s just an emotional leader for them.”

Van Lith described her and Clark as “buddies,” especially after they were roommates during a portion of the Team USA trip in 2019.

“I have supported her through her college career and she’s supported me through mine,” Van Lith said of Clark. “She’s gotten better every year. She’s gotten better since I played with her in Team USA. So, she’s a great player and a great person.”

Despite their history, Clark has never played against Van Lith or Walz. The Hawkeyes and Cardinals have met just twice in program history.

Louisville won both of those games — a 2014 NCAA Tournament second-round game in Iowa City, 83-63, and an 86-52 rout in the 2014-15 Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

“I’m excited to go up against her and go against coach Walz, who was also my coach,” Clark said. “I know him really well, and it will be a fun, fun game.”

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