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Caitlin Clark leads Iowa to 89-68 win over Colorado and rematch with defending NCAA champion LSU

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Let the hype begin!

Caitlin Clark had 29 points and 15 assists to lead top-seeded Iowa to an 89-68 win over fifth-seeded Colorado in the women's NCAA Tournament on Saturday, setting up a rematch of last year's national title game against LSU.

“I think we’re excited. Anytime you have a chance to go up against somebody you lost to, it brings a little more energy,” Clark said. “I think overall it’s just going to be a really great game for women’s basketball. They’re really solid one through five. We know we are going to have to rebound the basketball.”

The Tigers, who beat the Hawkeyes in the championship game a year ago, topped UCLA in Saturday's earlier semifinal in the Albany 2 Region. The teams will play Monday night.

“I think everyone's pretty excited for it,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “These are two really good basketball teams. Unfortunate they are meeting this early. Everyone that's left now is really good. LSU is certainly that. It’s going to be highly emotional and highly competitive.”

Clark got the Hawkeyes (32-4) going early, driving to the basket for easy layups or throwing fantastic passes. About the only thing missing from Clark's day was one of her signature midcourt logo shots. She took a couple, but missed.

The NCAA’s all-time Division I scoring leader has dazzled off the court as well. She’s a transcendent player who has brought record ratings and attendance to the sport. The sold-out crowd was filled with girls and boys wearing No. 22 Iowa shirts who cheered at every play their favorite player made. Clark spent a few minutes after the buzzer signing autographs before she went back to the locker room.

Clark threaded the needle with a beautiful bounce pass to Hannah Stuelke for a layup before the end of the first quarter that gave the Hawkeyes a 22-14 lead. Clark had six points, six assists and three rebounds in the opening 10 minutes.

She finished the first half with 15 points and eight assists as the Hawkeyes were up 48-35 at the break.

Iowa scored the first six points of the third quarter and Colorado (24-10) could not get within single digits the rest of the way.

“We had the punch to begin the third quarter,” Bluder said. "Set the tone early in both the halves which was really important.”

The Buffaloes made their first back-to-back trips to the Sweet 16 since the 2002-03. They also were knocked out last year by Iowa, falling 87-77 in the same round.

Aaronette Vonleh scored 13 points and Frida Formann had 12 for the Buffs.

“It is tough. Never want to go out like that,” Colorado's Jaylyn Sherrod said. “Some things we can all look back at and say we could have done better. Proud of this team.”

BALANCED SCORING

Clark got her teammates involved. Sydney Affolter scored 15 points, making all six of her shots. Kate Martin and Gabbie Marshall each added 14, combining to hit six 3-pointers.

CLIMBING THE CHARTS

Clark moved to sixth all-time in college basketball scoring with 3,859 points. She passed Miriam Walker-Samuels and Deb Remmerde, both of whom played in the NAIA. Walker-Samuels had 3,855 points and Remmerde was one behind her. Clark will be hard-pressed to get into the top five as Grace Beyer is next at 3,961 points.

UP NEXT

The NCAA couldn't have asked for a better matchup in the regional final than LSU and Iowa playing for a chance to get to the Final Four in Cleveland.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness