The stage had just been assembled on the Target Center floor for the Big Ten women's basketball championship trophy presentation. But before the ceremony could begin, Caitlin Clark stepped onto the stage to roars from the crowd.
She wanted a selfie.
With a horde of fans dressed in black and gold in the background, she had her moment to end a tournament in which she operated a clinic on how to play total basketball in what had to feel like a home game.
A colleague texted me during the second quarter of Sunday's Big Ten championship game to ask how many Iowa fans were in the stands.
My reply, jokingly: "All."
A supermajority of a record crowd of 9,505 — breaking the old record of 9,417 set in 2004 in Indianapolis — supported Iowa and were a fixture throughout the tournament. It led to a question: what was behind having the lower bowl of Target Center nearly full on Sunday?
It's possibly a reflection on the increasing draw women's basketball is becoming. Minnesota is turning out Division I talent annually — the Gophers will benefit from this once they start attracting more of the state's top prep players. And Minneapolis is a reasonable drive for supporters of more than a few conference opponents.
The other theory I kicked around is that there must not be much to do in Iowa than to follow the Hawkeyes around. This is not the first time Iowa has celebrated the Twin Cities. In 2002 I watched Hawkeyes fans attempt to carry part of a goalpost out of the Metrodome following a football triumph over the Gophers. They were thwarted by the revolving door to Chicago Avenue. I dismissed that theory as being a little insulting.
There had to be a better reason to explain Iowa's takeover of the Twin Cities during the past several days. On Sunday, I arrived at Target Center around 1:45 p.m. for a 4 p.m. tipoff to find Iowa fans jammed into the lobby of the arena waiting for the gates to open. The Hawkeyes band soon appeared and began playing a few feet away from George Mikan's statue to fire up the crowd. The gates opened at 2:30 p.m. Within minutes, the sections behind the Hawkeyes bench and midcourt were full.
At 2:45 p.m., one Iowa player walked onto the court: Clark. And it was if Leopold had arrived to direct the orchestra.
Clark took the court under a cacophony of excited applause, cheers and screams. She then warmed up for what would be a signature performance Sunday during Iowa's 105-72 demolishing of Ohio State, scoring 23 points with five rebounds and nine assists.
In the first half.
Clark is fast with a quick release on her jumper. She has NBA range on three-pointers. She can penetrate, anticipate and create. Post player Monika Czinano scored 26 points on Sunday largely because Clark's lobs into the paint put her in position for easy buckets. Clark finished with her 10th career triple-double: 30 points, 10 rebounds and 17 assists. After making two free throws with 4 minutes, 46 seconds left in the game to put Iowa ahead 97-63, Clark held out her arms then put her right hand behind her ear to feel more love from the fans.
Moments after the game, outgoing Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren took the stage and was surrounded by Iowa players as he proclaimed: "Today is about the University of Iowa."
Yes, Iowa's triumph capped a tournament that began with the Gophers losing the first game on Wednesday in what was Lindsay Whalen's final game as coach. The tourney continued with Ohio State pulling off a stunning comeback against regular season champion Indiana in the semifinals only to be stomped by Iowa in the title game. The week began with a bang, with the Whalen news, but finished with a banger from Clark and the Hawkeyes.
And that's how it finally sunk in why so many grabbed flights or made the drive up Interstate 35 to turn Target Center into Carver-Hawkeye Arena: When your favorite team has Caitlin Clark, you don't want to miss a single play.