HomeSportsMarch Madness: Iowa's win over LSU draws 12.3 million views and breaks...

March Madness: Iowa’s win over LSU draws 12.3 million views and breaks record for most-watched NCAAW game

Iowa’s win over LSU in the Elite Eight is the most-watched women’s college basketball game of all time, averaging 12.3 million viewers on Monday night.

The audience peaked at 16.1 million viewers, becoming ESPN’s second-highest draw for a basketball game of any kind since 2012, the network announced.

That’s more than all but one of last season’s NBA Finals games, based on Nielsen viewing data. Game 5 between the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat drew 13.08 million viewers, while the other games during the series drew audiences of less than 12 million.

Monday night viewership also surpasses all MLB games last season. Compared to college football last year, it is rivaled only by the SEC championship game and the College Football Playoff game between Michigan and Ohio State, which drew 19 million viewers on Fox.

The latest ratings for women’s basketball are stunning, but shouldn’t come as a huge surprise considering Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese and their respective teams have already made ratings history together. Their most recent matchup broke the record previously set in last year’s NCAA tournament title game, in which Reese won Most Outstanding Player as she led LSU to a victory over Iowa in front of a historic TV audience of 9.9 million viewers.

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Clark was the first player in NCAA Tournament history to record consecutive 40-point games that year, and she didn’t stop there. She became the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer among women and men earlier this season, and she continues to draw large audiences both in person and on television.

Through four tournament games this year, Iowa is averaging about 6.83 million viewers. That figure includes Iowa’s win over Colorado in the Sweet 16, which averaged 6.9 million viewers. LSU is also popular, averaging 4.73 million viewers before play in the tournament ended.

ALBANY, NEW YORK - APRIL 01: Caitlin Clark #22 of the Iowa Hawkeyes reacts during the second half against the LSU Tigers in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on April 1, 2024 in Albany, New York.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes’ victory over the LSU Tigers was gold. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The exponential growth of interest in the women’s game is a tribute to the wealth of exciting players. Although Clark has announced her plans to move on to the WNBA next year, the current freshman class bodes well for the future.

Before LSU and Iowa, UConn’s 2002 title win over Oklahoma was the record for the most-watched NCAA women’s basketball title game since ESPN secured the rights to the women’s tournament in 1996. That match featured Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who took the WNBA by storm. soon after. Bird was drafted in 2002, followed in 2004 by Taurasi. Bird became a four-time WNBA champion with Seattle before retiring. Taurasi, a three-time WNBA champion, is still in the league.

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Before the ESPN era, legend Cheryl Miller and USC made history when she led 11.83 million people to the 1983 championship game on CBS. Miller now mentors USC freshman JuJu Watkins, who on Monday night set the NCAA Division I record for most points scored by a freshman after leading the Trojans to their first Elite Eight appearance in 30 years.

Watkins and the Trojans lost to UConn in that round, with star Paige Bueckers scoring 28 points on Monday. Bueckers, who has drawn comparisons to Taurasi since she was in sixth grade, wants to bring the Huskies another NCAA title.

Bueckers and Clark meet Friday (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) in the Final Four.

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