Paige Bueckers teaches Caitlin Clark a lesson in humility after losing to Iowa on controversial play

Officials called forward Aaliyah Edwards for an illegal screen after she collided with Iowa guard Gabbie Marshall

UConn guard Paige Bueckers, left, fights for a loose ball with Iowa...

Paige Bueckers caught a bounce pass from Nika Muhl and prepared to pull up with a chance to extend UConn‘s season.

She never got the chance.

Just as the Huskies‘ leading scorer rose, the whistle blew. Officials called forward Aaliyah Edwards for an illegal screen after she collided with Iowa guard Gabbie Marshall, who was trying to get by Edwards in pursuit of Bueckers.

The offensive foul with 3.9 seconds left gave the ball back to the Hawkeyes. UConn never got it back in a 71-69 loss that ended the program’s 23rd women’s Final Four appearance one step short of the national title game.

Iowa and Caitlin Clark will face unbeaten South Carolina for the NCAA championship on Sunday. UConn will watch from home, with plenty of time to think about a whistle whose echo will linger into the offseason.

“My point of view, it was pretty clean,” Edwards said.

The officials saw it another way. The play was the third offensive foul called against the Huskies during a physical game that had players on both sides occasionally dropping to the floor.

The 6-foot-3 Edwards didn’t knock the 5-9 Marshall to the ground. But officials saw enough contact to swing momentum one last time.

“I’m happy it was called,” Marshall said. “That was like the third or fourth one of the game.”

Marshall spent most of her 39 minutes on the court trying to slow down Bueckers. The 2021 national player of the year needed 17 shots to reach 17 points. She’ll never know what would have happened if she had been able to get off an 18th, though Bueckers declined to blame the loss on the final sequence.

I feel there were a lot of mistakes that I made that could have prevented that play from even being that big – Paige Bueckers

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“Everybody can make a big deal of that one single play, but not one single play wins a basketball game or loses a basketball game,” Bueckers said. “I feel there were a lot of mistakes that I made that could have prevented that play from even being that big.”

The Huskies led by 12 in the first half and nearly recovered from a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter. UConn called timeout after an Iowa turnover with 9 seconds left. Coming out of the huddle, Marshall was pretty sure she knew who the Huskies would turn to with so much at stake.

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“I think I knew the ball was going to go to Paige in that moment and they were going to try and set some screens for her,” Marshall said. “I was just trying to stay on her hip, that was my mentality going into it.”

Marshall never got to Bueckers’ hip. Instead, she caught a piece of Edwards’ left elbow. And when the whistle blew, Marshall pointed the other way as if to say “our ball” while UConn coach Geno Auriemma struggled to control his emotions as a season he’s called one of the most “gratifying” of his Hall of Fame career came to a halt.

“I mean, there’s probably an illegal screen call that you could make on every single possession,” Auriemma said. “I just know there were three or four of them called on us and I don’t think there were any called on them. So I guess we just gotta get better on not setting illegal screens.”

The illegality of the play may be in the eye of the beholder. Hoops luminaries from Kelsey Plum, whose NCAA Division I scoring record was broken by Clark this season, to LeBron James believed the refs should have let it go.

“I ain’t rolling with that call,” James posted on X.

Maybe, but the Hawkeyes are rolling into a meeting with the Gamecocks while UConn’s national championship drought is at eight years and counting.

“There were some decisions that, even myself, I wish I could take back,” Edwards said. “But that’s just how the game went. And we left it out there on the court today.”

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