Angel Reese, Caitlin Clark built a must-watch March Madness rivalry that gets another chapter

ALBANY — Larry Bird retired on Aug. 18, 1992. Magic Johnson retired on May 14, 1996.

Caitlin Clark is 22 years old. She has never watched clips of Magic or Bird.

“Honestly, I have not,” she said.

You never did?

“No, sorry,” she said, smiling.

Angel Reese will be 22 in May.

“I’ve watched clips, but I’ve never seen them live,” she said. “I’m a woman’s basketball player, I don’t really watch the NBA.”

Fans and viewers began watching the NBA in earnest when Magic and Bird carried their college rivalry to the Lakers and Celtics, respectively.

Angel Reese and LSU can advance to another Final Four by defeating Iowa on Monday.

But first Magic’s Michigan State beat Bird’s Indiana State in the 1979 NCAA Championship game in Salt Lake City en route to Hall of Fame careers.

Reese’s LSU beat Clark’s Iowa in the 2023 NCAA Championship game at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, and will be defending its title on Monday night at MVP Arena in an Elite Eight rematch that belongs in a Final Four.

LSU’s 102-85 victory over Iowa drew a record-shattering 9.9 million viewers on ABC, according to ESPN.

“Let’s see if we can top 10 million tomorrow!” Reese said at her locker Sunday with a big smile.

These two faces of women’s basketball have been instrumental in elevating the sport’s popularity. Clark will be the first overall pick by the WNBA Indiana Fever.

Caitlin Clark will likely be the Indiana Fever's selection at No. 1 overall in the upcoming WNBA Draft.

Reese has not made a decision on leaving for the pros. Their next-level impact won’t be as dramatic as Bird’s and Magic’s, but it will without question continue to grow the popularity of the women’s game.

“What we have done for women’s basketball has been tremendous, and being able to bring as many eyeballs as we have onto this sport has been really the coolest part of this whole journey for me,” Clark said.

“Being able to inspire so many young girls — she’s done it, I’ve done it, but at the same time, there’s been so many other young women in our game that have been able to do the same thing.”

Reese: “I just love players that help grow the game, and she’s one of them.”

Reese, 6-foot-3, is a power interior player. Clark, 6-0, is more like a combination of Bird’s shooting and Magic’s (and Bird’s) passing.

“It’s not Angel versus Caitlin tomorrow,” Reese said. “It’s LSU versus Iowa.”

Well of course, it’s basketball, five-on-five and all that.

“I think it’s gonna be a really competitive game between Iowa and LSU,” Clark said. “Not one player’s just gonna win the game. That’s not how things work for us. We’re at our best when we have multiple people scoring in double figures, like we did [in the Sweet 16 against] Colorado.”

Well of course. This isn’t boxing, or tennis. But 9.9 million preferred to view it as Caitlin Clark versus Angel Reese last year, and those same 9.9 million will prefer to view it again as Caitlin Clark versus Angel Reese on Monday night.

Just the way it was Wilt Chamberlain versus Bill Russell, or Tom Brady versus Peyton Manning, or Patrick Mahomes versus Josh Allen.

The Caitlin Clark-Angel Reese matchup in the national championship had 9.9 million people watching.

“You’ve got two very talented players that have brought a lot of attention to our sport,” LSU coach Kim Mulkey said.

“They both trash talk. They both make their teammates better. They both have their teammates’ back.

They have both elevated our game to where we have people watching that never watched women’s basketball before. Yeah, those are tough women.”

Two tough women obsessed with winning. Everyone remembers how Reese flipped Clark the ring finger in the championship game, right? Nothing personal.

“Trash talking is OK, but not taking it personal off the court,” Reese said. “I love Caitlin and I love her game. I admire everything she’s done.

“A lot of times some players don’t even say anything back so it’s no fun. But I know me and Caitlin will go at it if anything. Just out of competition though. She wants to win, I want to win and we’re both two super great players and want to compete.”

Clark tells us that her trash talk is a by-product of a competitive passion that fires herself and her team up.

“Anytime you go up against somebody that’s super-competitive and has that same drive and will to win, that’s what you love, that’s what competitors love,” Clark said. “These type of games is what makes our game so great, it’s what people want to turn on the TV and watch. I expect the viewership numbers to be through the roof for this.”

Great recognizes great.

“I think she’s just somebody that goes out there and gives it her all every single night,” Clark said. “She’s gonna give every ounce of everything that she has and that’s exactly what you want out of a player.”

Great recognizes great.

“She’s just a killer,” Reese said. “She gets all of her teammates involved. She’s just a really smart player, has a great mentality to get everybody involved but also takes great shots and makes great shots.”

And there is so much more to Clark’s game.

“Her passing is crazy,” Reese said. “Being able to see how she gets 18 assists sometimes, 15 assists sometimes, double-doubles as a point guard, just being able to do that, I know her game will translate to the next level.”

What makes Angel Reese great?

“Just being a winner,” Reese said. “I do wherever it takes to win. If my scoring isn’t going, I rebound, I get stops, I get steals. Making the right pass. I just love doing whatever it takes to win.”

What makes Caitlin Clark great?

“She can score all levels,” Reese said. “She does whatever it takes. She’s also a winner as well.”

Only one winner on Monday night. Both winners in each other’s eyes.

“I can definitely relate to the pressure that she probably feels on the weight of her shoulders,” Clark said. “That’s a lot to deal with for somebody that’s 22 years old and has that many eyeballs on her. I have a lot of empathy for her and what she’s been able to go through and what she’s been able to do for our game has been amazing and really uplift our game, inspire a lot of young girls to want to be like her and give them somebody to look up to, so that’s been really cool to watch as well.”

Caitlin versus Angel, sorry ladies. Must-watch TV.

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