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Iowa women's basketball: Caitlin Clark named Big Ten freshman of the year, misses out on POY


IOWA CITY, Ia. — Caitlin Clark entered her freshman season shouldering loftier expectations than perhaps any Iowa women's basketball player, ever. 

She has crushed them all. 

Now, Clark owns one of the Big Ten's most prestigious titles. 

The former five-star recruit was unanimously named the conference's freshman of the year, becoming the first Hawkeye to win the award since Jaime Printy in 2010 (Printy also was unanimous). Clark was considered a contender for player of the year, but the league's coaches and media went with Michigan's Naz Hillmon in a unanimous vote.  

Alongside Clark, Iowa's Monika Czinano was also a unanimous first-team all-conference selection. The junior center averaged 18.3 points per game and led the Big Ten in shooting percentage (65.7%).   

Everyone knew Clark was special as she racked up recruiting accolades and national attention at Dowling Catholic. But this sort of immediate impact? No one could have seen it coming. Clark has already ascended among the program greats in four short months of basketball. 

Clark leads the country at 27.4 points per game after dropping 35 in Saturday's regular-season finale against Nebraska. She averages four made three-pointers per game, has splashed home more treys than anyone (92) and is shooting 42% from downtown, indicating Clark matches her volume shooting with efficiency. Her 6.8 assists per game rank fifth nationally as well. Iowa's well-oiled offense starts and ends with Clark. 

“Caitlin’s an amazing player, obviously,” teammate McKenna Warnock said earlier this season. “Everyone can tell that, but she works really hard in practice as well — which is something you can’t see — and so it’s really inspiring. She brings a lot to the table — obviously she can facilitate for herself, but what she does for other people often goes unnoticed.”

More: Caitlin Clark takes over late as Iowa pushes past Nebraska, earns 6 seed in league tourney

Rarely, if ever, in Lisa Bluder's lengthy Iowa tenure has a true freshman carried such importance. Bluder has had key first-year players, sure, but none was expected to be the lead option from the opening tip.   

As the Hawkeyes (15-8, 11-8) look to continue this extended run of success, Clark is the primary reason why Iowa is eyeing the NCAA Tournament yet again. She's been named Big Ten freshman of the week a record 13 times and conference player of the week on five other occasions. Clark, along with UConn's Paige Bueckers, have been routinely mentioned as the nation's top two freshmen.

"In four years," Bluder said last month, "I’m going to use every adjective to describe Caitlin."

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.