South Carolina Wins 3rd Title, Spoiling Caitlin Clark, Iowa’s Storybook Ending

In a battle between the superstar and the machine, the machine prevailed, and a storybook ending was denied.

The South Carolina Gamecocks triumphed in a revenge game over Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes to win its third NCAA Women’s National Championship, beating them 87-75. They also became the 10th Division I team to go without a loss during a season.

Head coach Dawn Staley became the third women’s coach ever to win three national championships. 


“When young people lock in and have a belief, and have a trust, and their parents have that same trust, this is what can happen. They made history. They etched their names in the history books,” said Staley. 

The Gamecocks did what few teams could: harass and defend Clark, the most prolific scorer in NCAA Women’s basketball history. 


Clark’s Scorching Hot Start

But it didn’t appear that way at the game’s outset when the Hawkeyes stormed to a 10-0 lead. Unlike her game against LSU, Clark cooked in that first quarter. She scored 13 of her team’s first 20 points. When the buzzer sounded, she ended up with 18 points in the first quarter, the most ever in a Final Four by a women’s college basketball player. 

Iowa was up 27-20 at the end of the first quarter. Clark, the most ballyhooed women’s college player ever and a central figure in elevating her sport’s popularity, seemed destined to end her storybook career with a ring. 

As the game’s broadcaster remarked early on, “There is no single answer for stopping Caitlin Clark.”

South Carolina Spoiler

Ultimately, South Carolina played spoiler thanks to a multifaceted effort, including Raven Johnson’s defense, Kamilla Cardoso and Chloe Kitts’ rebounding, and freshmen MiLaysia Fulwiley and Tessa Johnson’s dynamic scoring and sizzle off the bench. You can also add Te-Hina Paopao’s timely shooting to that formula. 

South Carolina went on a 7-0 run to start the second quarter, tying the game at 27. In the second quarter, a few trends from the game emerged: the Gamecocks dominated the offensive glass and bench scoring. 

Johnson’s sticky defense stifled Clark in the second quarter, and after her scorching start, she only scored three points. 

The Gamecocks got their first lead of the afternoon at 4:58 in the second quarter.

South Carolina closed out the second quarter strong, outscoring Iowa 29-19 to take a 49-46 lead at the half. But Iowa fought back, thanks to a Hannah Stuelke layup with an assist from Clark. The Hawkeyes went on a 9-2 run to close the lead to two. 

That was the closest they would get for the rest of the game because the Gamecocks responded big. South Carolina went on an 8-0 run, punctuated by a massive three by Bree Hall.

Iowa pulled to within six on an 8-0 run to pull within six on back-to-back threes and cut the deficit to five thanks to a three-point play by Chicago-born player Sydney Affolter with a little over four minutes left in the game. However, South Carolina relied on some timely free throws by Paopao and some tenacious rebounding by Cardoso, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament. 

“It doesn’t always end like you want it to end, much like last year. But my freshies are at the top of my heart because they wanted this,” Staley said. “It’s awesome. It’s unbelievable,” Staley said. 


Revenge of The Machine

In a contest headlined by Clark’s singular brilliance, the Gamecocks’ ensemble proved too overwhelming, particularly Cardoso and the dominant play of Johnson and Fulwiley. 

In defeating Iowa, South Carolina avenged a four-point loss to Iowa when the Hawkeyes beat them in a 77-73 upset win in last year’s national semifinals. It was the lone defeat the Gamecocks suffered last season. 

In that April 2023 game, Clark scored 41 points on 15-31 shooting, and South Carolina shot a dreadful 39% from the field and 20% from the three-point line. This was despite outrebounding Iowa by 24. 

Sunday afternoon’s match was nearly the polar opposite. Once again, the Gamecocks outrebounded the Hawkeyes by 22, but they shot 48% from the field and 42% from three. One colossal key was that South Carolina’s bench outscored Iowa’s 37-0. While Clark managed to score 30 points, she did so on 10-28 shooting, about 36% from the field. 

Clark’s next stop is likely the WNBA, where she is projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft on April 15. 

Despite the outcome, Clark is credited with helping elevate her sport, along with Staley and South Carolina, Angel Reese and Flau’jae Johnson of LSU, JuJu Watkins of USC, Paige Bueckers of UConn, and Hannah Hidalgo of Notre Dame, among others.

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