Iowa’s Caitlin Clark has defended her LSU rival Angel Reese for a gesture that she made during the NCAA women’s basketball championship game on Sunday.

Reese made the “You can’t see me” gesture – made famous by wrestler John Cena – towards his opponent when the Tigers closed their 102-85 victory, which clinched its first NCAA women’s basketball title. She also pointed at her finger, referencing the championship ring she would soon receive.

Reese, who is black, was abused for the gesture on social media. Others pointed out that Clark, who is white, had made the same gesture earlier in the tournament, but she had been praised for her fighting spirit.

Reese made reference to double standards when speaking to reporters after Sunday’s game. “All year I was criticized about who I was. I’m too hood, I’m too ghetto, I’ve been told that all year.” she said. “When other people do it, you don’t say anything… So this is for the girls who look like me. For those who want to speak for what they believe… He was bigger than me tonight. And Twitter is going to get mad every time.”

In an interview with ESPN on Tuesday, Clark said the criticism of Reese was unfair.

“I don’t think Angel should be criticized at all,” Clark said. “I’m just one who competes, and she competed. I think everyone knew there was going to be a little trash talk throughout the tournament. It’s not just Angel and me.

“We are all competitive. We all show our emotions in a different way. You know, Angel is a tremendous, tremendous player. I have nothing but respect for her. I love his game – the way he bounces the ball and scores the ball is absolutely amazing. I’m a huge fan of hers and even the entire LSU team. They played an incredible match.”

Clark said that women, just like men, should be able to insult their opponents.

“Men have always spoken badly… You should be able to play with that emotion… This is how all girls should continue to play,” she added.

On Monday, First Lady Jill Biden suggested that Iowa should join LSU for a visit to the White House, an honor usually reserved only for national champions. Reese called comments by Biden and the first lady’s spokeswoman a “joke” seemed to walk back Tuesday’s comments.

Clark again agreed with Reese. “That’s for LSU,” Clark told ESPN. “They should enjoy every second of being the champion. I think that’s theirs to do.

“I don’t think runners-up usually go to the White House. LSU should enjoy that moment for them. And congratulations, obviously you deserve to go there. Maybe I could go to the White House [in the future] in different terms”.

Reese and Clark enjoyed excellent tournaments. Reese scored a double-double in the final and was named the most outstanding player in the women’s Final Four, while Clark was the game’s leading scorer with 30 points. She had two 40-point triple-doubles in other games during the tournament.

Clark and Reese also helped bring women’s basketball into the spotlight. The Iowa-LSU game was the most watched women’s college basketball game of all time in the US. It averaged 9.9 million viewers.103% more than last year’s final.

“I just want to inspire boys and girls so that they can dream and do the same things that I have done. I was just that kid,” Clark said. “I looked up to WNBA players, NBA players, college athletes, even other professional sports athletes. All you have to do is dream, work really hard, and be surrounded by really, really good people who also believe in you.”

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