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Will Caitlin Clark, JuJu Watkins find shooting touch in Elite Eight?


Caitlin Clark is one of the best 3-point shooters in college history. The Iowa Hawkeyes senior hit her signature logo 3-pointer to become the all-time Division I women’s scoring leader in mid-February, then added six long-range bombs in a game a little more than two weeks later to pass Pete Maravich for most career points in Division I history for men and women.

JuJu Watkins is the presumptive national freshman of the year and ranks second in Division I women’s scoring this season — behind Clark — and has the USC Trojans one win away from their first Final Four since 1986. She’s eight points shy of breaking the single-season freshman scoring mark.

But as Clark and Watkins lead their teams into Monday’s Elite Eight — the Hawkeyes face LSU in an NCAA title game rematch in Albany (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) and the Trojans play UConn (9 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Portland — their shots aren’t falling with the same frequency as they have all season.

Through six games this postseason — counting the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments — Clark is shooting 28.9% from behind the arc. Last season, when she led Iowa to the Final Four, she made 41.7% of her 3-point attempts in nine postseason games. She’s still scoring at virtually the same clip as last postseason, but her scoring average in the 2024 postseason is down a bit (29.0) compared to her average for this entire season (31.7).

Watkins, meanwhile, isn’t shooting with the same accuracy she was earlier this season. A 40% shooter on the season, she hit just 29% of her attempts from the field in the Sweet 16.

But both players are still getting the job done. Clark had 29 points in the Sweet 16, while Watkins poured in 30, the second most by a USC player in an NCAA tournament game.

We look at how they’ve adjusted their games, what’s working (and what isn’t) for two of the most watched players in all of March Madness and how long they can keep winning if their shots don’t heat up.

How has Clark adjusted to her 3-point shot being off?

Clark is six 3-pointers away from tying Oklahoma’s Taylor Robertson — who had 537 3s in five seasons — for most in Division I history. Entering Monday’s Elite Eight game vs. LSU, she has shot 37.7% from behind the arc in 136 career games at Iowa.

This postseason, Clark is 22-of-76 from behind the arc. Last season she made 45 of 108 3-point attempts. During 30 regular-season games, Clark made 162 3-pointers (5.7 per game). In six postseason games, she has made 22 (3.7).

However, her 2-point percentage is better this postseason than last. This year, she’s 34-of-54 (62.96%) from 2-point range in six games. Last year in nine postseason games, she was 57.1% (40-of-70) from 2-point range.

Against Colorado on Saturday in the Sweet 16, Clark was 10-of-11 from 2-point range, but 3-of-11 from behind the arc. She also had 15 assists, her NCAA tournament career high.

“I think when you’re playing in environments you’re not always used to, and playing in these tournament settings where your turnaround time isn’t always the greatest, you’re a little more sore,” Clark said when asked if there has been anything different about shooting the 3 this postseason.

“But I think [it’s important] not settling for 3-pointers. I think I took 19 3s in 22 shots total vs. LSU the last time we played them. So … not falling in love with my 3-point shot, being able to get in the paint, that allows my teammates to get open. I think that will be another key going into this game, being able to score at all three levels.”

In the national championship game last year, Clark was 9-of-22 overall from the field, 8-of-19 from 3-point range. She was also 4-of-5 from the free throw line, finishing with 30 points and 8 assists. It was a good showing in a national championship game. But Clark might need even more to try to defeat LSU this year.

“They’re such a good defensive team. They’re so long,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “[Against Colorado, Clark’s] 3 wasn’t falling, so she did what a smart basketball player does — ‘OK, I’m going to score in other ways, I’m going to assist the ball, I’m going to get to the rim.’ She didn’t get to the free throw line yesterday. That was kind of unusual.

“I’m going to have to figure out ways for her to get to the rim because LSU is just so good.”

Clark hasn’t let the drop in 3-point percentage affect her offensive production. In addition to increased accuracy in 2-point shooting, she has a slight uptick in assists.

Her assists in this postseason (10.3 per game) are up from her season-long average (8.9). And Clark’s postseason scoring and assist averages in 2023 and 2024 are virtually identical.

How has Watkins manufactured points without accurate shooting?

During Saturday’s come-from-behind win over Baylor, Watkins became just the third player since 2000 to score at least 20 points on 45% shooting or worse in each of her team’s first three NCAA tournament games, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Previously, Kelsey Plum did it in Washington’s first four games en route to the 2016 Final Four, while Chennedy Carter’s 2017 and 2018 runs with Texas A&M both ended in the Sweet 16.

That kind of shooting isn’t necessarily out of the ordinary for Watkins, who has shot just 40% from the field while carrying a heavy share of the Trojans’ offense. The 43% of USC’s plays she’s finished with a shot, trip to the free throw line or turnover leads the NCAA, per, with Clark (40%) just behind. With defenses sending multiple players in Watkins’ direction, she has had to supplement her shot-making with a steady dose of trips to the free throw line.

“I do think she has that maturity to her game where if her shot’s not falling, and she can find her way to the rim,” Trojans coach Lindsay Gottlieb said, “it gets her in rhythm a little bit to get to the free throw line.”

Over the course of the season, Watkins leads the NCAA in free throws made and attempted. Although not as accurate as Clark from long distance, Watkins (85%) has nearly equaled her 86% foul shooting, taking advantage of those frequent opportunities.

“I think the free throw line is key in this stretch of games,” Watkins said. “Whatever I can do to guarantee that we’re getting [scores] down the stretch, maybe if we’re not on or we get a little cold, just trying to make sure that I get to the basket and get to the free throw line.”

That skill set took center stage Saturday, when Watkins shot 8-of-28 (29%) from the field against a Baylor defense intent on limiting her early opportunities. Watkins’ ability to get to the foul line in the fourth quarter powered USC to the Elite Eight. She scored seven of the Trojans’ last eight points on free throws, including back-to-back makes twice in the final 30 seconds of a one-score game.

Overall, Watkins was 12-of-13 from the charity stripe, allowing her to score 30 points on an off night from the field.

“Obviously she’s at her best when all three levels are clicking,” Gottlieb said, “but you always know she can get to her pull-up or get to the free throw line, one or the other. Defenses can’t take away everything.”

As the level of competition increases, poor shooting from Watkins could doom the Trojans. Plum’s 2016 run, which saw her average 26.3 PPG on 38% shooting over the first four games, ended in the Final Four with a 5-for-18 outing in a 21-point loss to Syracuse.

For now, Watkins is doing what it takes for USC to advance.

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