Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese’s Dynamic Explained: The Hottest Rivalry in College Sports

Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese s College Basketball Dynamic Explained
Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese. Getty Images (2)
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Women’s college basketball has never been more popular, thanks in large part to a fierce rivalry between two of the game’s biggest stars.

Iowa’s Caitlin Clark — who became the all-time NCAA scoring leader this season — and LSU’s Angel Reese — who was named SEC Player of the Year — have helped usher in a new era of the sport, which will culminate in a highly anticipated Elite Eight showdown between the Hawkeyes and Tigers on Monday, April 1.

The game is a rematch of last year’s NCAA National Championship Game, which saw LSU defeat Iowa 102-85, earning the Tigers their first title in school history.

What’s more, Reese, 21, and Clark, 22, engaged in a viral display of gamesmanship during the encounter that continued to play out far after the final whistle had blown — with the White House even getting involved.

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Before Clark and Reese go head-to-head one final time collegiately, keep reading for a deep dive into their contentious past:

Angel Reese Taunts Caitlin Clark During National Championship Game

With the clock ticking down in April 2023’s NCAA National Championship Game between LSU and Iowa, a triumphant Reese shadowed Clark around the court and made a “you can’t see me” gesture — originally popularized by John Cena — by waving her hand in front of her face. Reese also pointed at her ring finger, making reference to the championship prize that would soon be hers.

Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese s College Basketball Dynamic Explained
Angel Reese #10 of the LSU Lady Tigers reacts towards Caitlin Clark #22 of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

In the aftermath, some criticized Reese for a lack of sportsmanship.

“What a f–king idiot,” former ESPN personality Keith Olbermann tweeted about Reese. "Doesn't matter the gender, the sport, the background - you're seconds away from a championship and you do something like this and overshadow all the good. Mindless, classless, and what kind of coach does this team have?"

Olbermann later apologized for being “uninformed.”

Reese Calls Out “Double Standard” With Clark

In the midst of criticism about her behavior, Reese was quick to point out that Clark had done the exact same “you can’t see me” gesture two games earlier in the tournament without any blowback.

"I don't fit in the box that you all want me to be in,” Reese said at the national championship’s postgame press conference. “I'm too hood, I'm too ghetto. You told me that all year. But when other people do it, y'all don't say nothing.”

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She continued, “So this is for the girls that look like me, that want to speak up on what they believe in. It's unapologetically you. It was bigger than me tonight."

Clark Defends Reese From the Backlash

Reese found a very powerful ally in all of the commotion about her on-court behavior: Clark herself.

“I don’t think Angel should be criticized at all,” Clark told ESPN two days after the game. “I’m just one that competes, and she competed. I think everybody knew there was going to be a little trash talk in the entire tournament. It’s not just me and Angel.”

Clark called Reese “a tremendous, tremendous player” and said she is “a big fan” of her game.

“Men have always had trash talk,” Clark continued. “You should be able to play with that emotion. That’s how every girl should continue to play.”

The White House Controversy

It is the customary gesture of the White House to invite the national championship winners to the school for a celebration, but when First Lady Jill Biden said she wanted to invite runner-up Iowa as well, it didn’t sit well with Reese.

In response, she tweeted a link to a story about the Iowa invite and wrote “A JOKE” complete with three rolling-on-the-floor laughing emojis.

The first lady’s press secretary Vanessa Valdivia explained Biden’s thought process, saying the invitation to both teams was meant to “applaud the historic game and all women athletes” and hoped to acknowledge “how far women have advanced in sports since the passing of Title IX."

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Still, Reese wasn’t having it. "I don't accept that — I'm not going to lie to you, I don't accept that apology because she said what she said,” Reese explained during an interview on the “I Am Athlete” podcast. "You can't go back on certain things that you say. You felt that they should have came because of sportsmanship, right? [Iowa] can have that spotlight. We'll go to the Obamas. We'll see Michelle. We'll see Barack."

However, Reese later agreed to visit the White House and even helped present the first lady and President Joe Biden with custom LSU jerseys.

The Evolution of Their Relationship

With both of their programs in the national spotlight again, Reese was candid about the mutual respect she and Clark have for each other.

"I don't think people realize it's not personal," Reese said Sunday, March 31. "Once we get out between those lines, if I see you walking down the street, it's like, 'Hey, girl, what's up? Let's hang out.' I think people just take it like we hate each other. Me and Caitlin Clark don't hate each other. I want everybody to understand that.”

On the court, however, Reese detailed how all pleasantries go out the window.

“Once I get between those lines, there's no friends,” she continued. “I'm going to talk trash to you. I'm going to do whatever it takes to get in your head the whole entire game, but after the game, we can kick it. I don't think people really realize that.”

Reese said she was fine being cast in “the villain role,” especially in the wake of the interest in their rivalry helping the sport reach new heights.

“I'll take the hit for it, but I know we're growing women's basketball,” Reese noted. “If this is the way we're going to do it, then this is the way we're going to do it. You either like it or you don't."

Clark agreed, saying on Sunday that she and Reese have that “competitive fire.”

​​”We both grew up loving this game,” Clark said, “and we're going to do anything we can to help our teams win."

Iowa and LSU battle in the Elite Eight on ESPN Monday, April 1, at 7 p.m. ET. The winner advances to the 2024 NCAA Women’s Final Four in Cleveland, Ohio.