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The score doesn’t matter, just the magic of Caitlin Clark

A sold-out Welsh Ryan turned yellow. It was incredible.

@IowaWBB on Twitter

Aside from the game being held in Welsh-Ryan Arena, Wednesday night had nothing to do with Northwestern.

Joe McKeown and the ‘Cats may not like that. They may not want to admit that.

But it’s because of Caitlin Clark that a Northwestern women’s basketball game was sold out for the first time ever. It’s because of her that season tickets were a cheaper option than tickets to the singular game against Iowa. It’s because of her that the crowd was a sea of yellow, that young girls were screaming at the top of their lungs and that her jersey was being sported in every corner of the arena. It’s because of her people came out to support a team that rarely draws a crowd.

It’s the Caitlin Clark effect. She makes women’s basketball, otherwise underrepresented and disrespected, a commodity.

“Being 22 years old, it’s hard for me to wrap my head around it,” Clark said. “I saw the tweets of all the people lined up outside the arena, and it’s just cool to see what people are willing to give up to watch your team for two hours.”

To see a generational talent drop a quiet 35 points, 10 assists and six rebounds, fans are more than willing to pay the steep price and take the time to travel to a new state or wait for hours in the cold outside. There’s no wondering if it will be worth it. She’s one of the biggest names in all of sports; it’s guaranteed to be worth it.

She’ll put on a show, and she’ll break records. On top of that performance, Clark became the all-time leading scorer in the Big Ten. She has just Kelsey Plum to pass to hold the NCAA record.

“The coolest thing is just the names that I get to be around,” Clark said. “Those are people that I grew up watching: Kelsey Plum, Brittney Griner, Kelsey Mitchell. Those are really, really great players.”

While the Wildcats would probably rather forget a horrid 110-74 loss and the crowd that wasn’t there for them, these four quarters were about witnessing something that can only be described as special.

Before the national anthem could even finish, the crowd erupted with a “Let’s go Iowa” chant. Despite Northwestern’s theatrics when announcing the team, the crowd was the loudest for Clark. The cheers after every nothing-but-net three and the little girls who were on their feet the whole game decked out in yellow — that was the power of sports, the power of investing in female athletes, the evidence that Clark has changed a whole lot more than basketball.

Just about every aspect of that game, from the lines outside hours ahead of time to the young fans hanging over the bleachers for her autographs at the end of the night, points to how influential she is. But, perhaps, nothing spoke more to that than the brief moment when it occurred that the most untouchable athlete was hurt.

When Clark fell to the ground in the third quarter and did not get up, the crowd went immediately silent. There were 7,039 people and not a single sound. At any moment, no matter the score, all eyes are on Clark. College athletics have never seen anything like this before.

“People are paying attention, and whether it’s to watch Caitlin Clark or Angel Reese or whoever it is, as long as you’re watching women’s basketball, that’s a great step for our sports,” Melannie Daley said. “Women’s basketball is up right now, and it should stay up.”

Forget the score. Forget the Wildcats’ loss. Clark brings a total solar eclipse wherever she goes, and Evanston is lucky to have been a stop along the way. Because, truly, she is not just a player who gets remembered — she’s the one who makes the sport get remembered.

“There’s never an expectation because you can always exceed expectations,” Clark said.

That’s never been more true. There is a whole world for women’s basketball to break into, and it finally is on its way to doing that.