Hailey Van Lith vs. Caitlin Clark: How Kim Mulkey’s coaching decision cost LSU against Iowa

Kim Mulkey has long been considered one of college basketball’s greatest tacticians. She didn’t cover herself in glory on Monday, however.

The LSU boss looked decidedly ordinary in the Tigers’ loss to Iowa, struggling to blot the Hawkeyes’ supernova over the course of 40 minutes.

Clark poured down 41 points on 13-of-29 shooting (8-of-16 from beyond the arc). She added 12 assists and seven rebounds to shatter LSU’s chances at a second-straight national championship win.

Much of Clark’s success came to the detriment of Tigers star Hailey Van Lith. The diminutive guard entered Monday’s contest felled by illness. She also stands at just 5-foot-7, five inches shorter than the lanky Clark.

Such factors proved to be a recipe for disaster for Van Lith. She faltered as the game wore on, unable to contain the mystifying skillset of her opposite number.

MORE: Inside Caitlin Clark’s record-setting Elite Eight win over LSU

Hailey Van Lith vs. Caitlin Clark

Van Lith was left on an island, forced to defend the effervescent Clark with nary a blitz, stunt or switch at her disposal. Given her underwhelming frame compared to Clark, it was hardly a surprise that Iowa’s standout had her way.

Van Lith’s struggles were apparent from the game’s opening salvo. Numerous basketball experts — including Aces players Alysha Clark and Kelsey Plum — noted the holes in the Tigers’ defensive assignment, namely it’s decision to greet Clark with drop coverage and acres of space under the level of the screen. 

Flau’jae Johnson seemed a better foe for Clark’s skill. After all, she stands at 5-10, far closer to Clark’s frame than Van Lith. She also possesses impressive foot speed. Most importantly, she didn’t come into Monday’s game under the weather.

MORE: Jason Sudeikis has a message for Angel Reese after LSU’s loss to Iowa

Nevertheless, Mulkey continued to go to the Van Lith well. And as Clark’s efforts found the nylon, all the Louisville transfer could do was hold her hands in exasperation.

The Tigers eventually gave Clark a new look, switching Johnson onto her in the fourth quarter and switching through screens. But the changes came far too late, in the end. 

Why did LSU keep Hailey Van Lith on Caitlin Clark?

Mulkey explained the method to her madness during Monday’s postgame presser. Her assessment? Clark is simply impossible to guard at the collegiate level.

“Well, there’s not a lot of strategy. You’ve got to guard her. Nobody else seems to be able to guard her. We didn’t even guard her last year when we beat them,” Mulkey said. “She’s just a generational player, and she just makes everybody around her better. That’s what the great ones do.

“I think they had a kid that scored 21 and 18. She had 12 assists. Caitlin Clark is not going to beat you by herself. It’s what she does to make those other teammates better that helps her score points and them score points to beat you.”

That very well may be true. However, Mulkey certainly didn’t do the Tigers any favor with her defensive scheme on Monday night.

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