South Carolina Finished Off A Perfect Season By Taking Down Iowa In The National Title Game

After a thrilling tournament, the women’s national championship game saw the two teams that dominated headlines all year meet in Cleveland, as Iowa and South Carolina went head-to-head with a title on the line.

It was Iowa that came out and landed the first punch, jumping out to a quick 20-9 lead thanks to an offensive onslaught led by Caitlin Clark, who had 18 first quarter points — including some deep threes — to help the Gamecocks take a 27-20 advantage after the first 10 minutes.

It didn’t take long for South Carolina to get right back into the game, as they rattled off a 7-0 run to open the second quarter to tie the game. The Gamecocks dominated the offensive glass, as Iowa struggled with their size inside, headlined by Kamilla Cardoso who had 11 points and 7 rebounds (4 offensive) in the first half. Along with their size, South Carolina’s depth proved to be crucial, as they got a big boost from MiLaysia Fulwiley and Tessa Johnson off the bench to briefly grab their first lead of the game.

From there, Te-Hina Paopao heated up, knocking down a trio of threes including one in the final minute that gave the Gamecocks a one-point lead, which got stretched to three at the half thanks to a Raven Johnson steal and score off of Clark.

As they often have this tournament run, South Carolina came out of the locker room at halftime on a mission, scoring six quick points to open up a nine point lead and force an Iowa timeout. Iowa would claw back to within two, but the Gamecocks had another response ready, as Tessa Johnson and Bree Hall got it rolling from three to push the lead up to a game-high 11 with just over a minute to go in the third quarter.

Early in the fourth quarter, the South Carolina lead grew to as many as 13 and it looked like Iowa might just not have enough juice to get back into the game. But Clark started creating some space for her shot and Gabbie Marshall hit a timely three to help cut the deficit to six midway through the final period.

Iowa would get to as close as within five, but could never fully reel in the Gamecocks. Offensively, they just couldn’t create enough good looks against the swarming length of South Carolina’s defense, and on the other end of the floor, a familiar story emerged as Cardoso got a huge putback bucket to effectively ice the game.

The Gamecocks ultimately pulled away to an 87-75 win, as they held Iowa scoreless for nearly four minutes in the closing stretch of the game. It was a tremendous effort from their entire group, a fitting end to a season where they lacked the kind of star power that has defined South Carolina teams in the past, but made up for it with incredible depth and a desire to play unselfish ball. Tessa Johnson finished as the leading scorer with 19 points off of the bench, while Cardoso had 15 points and 17 boards, and Paopao added 14 points of her own.

For Iowa, Clark finished with 30 points (10-of-28 shooting), eight rebounds, and six assists, as her illustrious career came to a bittersweet end in a loss. Kate Martin added 16 points for the Hawkeyes, but they just did not shoot well enough as a team (39.7 percent from the field) to overcome getting out-rebounded 51-29 by South Carolina. The Gamecocks also shot the ball extremely well (47.9 percent from the field and 42.1 percent from three), polishing off a perfect season in style and giving Dawn Staley her third national championship as a head coach.