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As the nation patiently waits for the Caitlin Clark Show to take the stage Friday, Target Center has already started filling up in black and gold.

During Thursday's game between Nebraska and Purdue, there might have been as many Iowa fans as the two teams playing. The same went for the previous game between Maryland and Illinois. Hawkeyes fans have been outnumbered only by those of the local Gophers, who had to travel more than four hours less to see their favorite team.

Clark helped lead Iowa to Big Ten tournament titles in Indianapolis (2022) and Minneapolis (last year). Now the Hawkeyes are going for a three-peat and received byes for the first two rounds, as did Ohio State, Indiana and Michigan State.

So Clark won't even take the court until Friday, but one could feel the energy in the arena. As Caitlin Fever surges throughout the country, she brings the Big Ten tournament and women's basketball overall into the spotlight with her.

All-session tickets for this tournament sold out for the first time ever. More than 109,000 fans are expected to attend over the five days. Television viewership is up 60% this season across all networks and 48% on FOX, the primary broadcast partner of the Big Ten.

It's no secret that the new NCAA's career leading scorer for men or women has been the main catalyst for the explosion of interest in women's basketball. Clark leads the country by scoring 32.2 points per game, and also averaged 8.7 assists. Her long-range shooting and flashy plays have dazzled fans everywhere, and nearly every game now seems like she's breaking a historic record.

Randy and Barbara Blaylock, 74, have been Iowa women's basketball season ticket holders for seven seasons, dating back to the Megan Gustafson years. They attended the Final Four in Dallas last year, when Iowa lost 102-85 to LSU in the national championship game, and they're part of a Hawkeye fan base that's taken over nearly every opposing arena the team visits.

When Iowa played the Gophers at Williams Arena on Feb. 28 — a 108-60 Hawkeyes victory — the announced sellout crowd was 14,625. Clark scored 15 of her game-high 33 points in the first four minutes. And now Iowa's party moves downtown, to Target Center.

"They've been building for four years, but it's reached a peak this year," Randy Blaylock said. "It's been exciting to follow. Everybody's paying attention now."

The two have granddaughters who play sports — basketball as well as others — and recognize the attention Clark and the Hawkeyes have brought to all of women's athletics.

"I think it's raised [interest] for all sports, not just women's basketball, all women's sports," Randy said. "They're finally getting recognition for what they can do compared to the men's side."

The Iowa fan base is made up of those such as the Blaylocks, who predate the Clark era, but the defending National Player of the Year also has ushered in a new group of fans. Ron Martinek, 51, has been a Hawkeyes fan his entire life but didn't follow the women's basketball team until two or three years ago.

That's significant for his 18-year-old daughter, Emma, who's become a massive fan of the team and can't believe how everybody "knows Iowa" now.

"It's crazy the amount of exposure women's basketball has had lately," Emma Martinek said. "I never really watched women's basketball; there wasn't really a way to watch women's basketball until you got to the tournament. Now, almost all of Iowa's games are on TV, or [there's] a way to watch them."

Clark has become a household name, even to those who have never followed women's basketball, and the Big Ten tournament should only amplify that. Women's basketball is more accessible to fans, more are watching than ever and it's largely because of the impact Clark and her teammates have made on the game.

As Target Center and Minneapolis wait for the electrifying Clark to take the court for one last conference tournament, the buzz throughout the arena and city is palpable.