South Carolina Remains Undefeated Topping Iowa In The National Championship 87-75

Photo: Gamecocks Athletics.

CLEVELAND, Ohio —With a breakout performance from freshman guard Tessa Johnson and a monster game by senior center Kamilla Cardoso, the South Carolina Gamecocks (38-0) completed only the tenth perfect season in NCAA Division I history with an 87-75 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes (34-5) Sunday night in Cleveland. The victory also made Dawn Staley the fifth Division I women’s basketball coach to have at least three titles. However, Staley gave the credit to her players.

“I’m super excited to share this moment with our team. They are incredible human beings and young people who trusted, believed, and figured out a way to help each other, learn and grow, and ultimately become champions.”

A Sold Out Arena and a Tale of Two Quarters

A sell-out crowd (18,300) inside Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, the home of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, locked into the exciting game, with many narratives on the line. Most eyes in the arena and on television were aimed at Player of the Year Caitlin Clark. She did not disappoint with another stellar performance: 30 points, eight rebounds, and five assists.

Iowa started the contest with a 10-0 run to put pressure on the Gamecocks, leading for more than 16 minutes of the half. Clark tallied 18 points in the initial 10 minutes of the contest. The Hawkeye shot 53% from the floor and an eye-popping 67% from beyond the arc.

South Carolina held their composure, fighting and scratching at the lead, finally tying the game early in the second quarter. They took the lead, 36-34, at just under five minutes before the half. The Hawkeyes also showed resilience, by regaining the advantage momentarily. However, in probably the most pivotal juncture of the contest, South Carolina closed out the second period on a 5-0 run, giving them a three-point advantage, 49-46 at the break.

Cardoso Comes Up Big

Gamecocks star Cardoso showed no regression from her knee injury in the semifinal game versus NC State on Friday.

“I got a lot of treatment between yesterday and today,” she said. “But I don’t think it really affected me today. I was just able to go out there and play. I wanted to play for this team, play for our coaches. And I just wanted to go out there and play today.”

She put up 11 points and seven rebounds in the first half, making her the only player from her team in double-figures at that point. Iowa had two: Clark added three more points in the second stanza to her first-quarter explosion (21) and Kate Martin contributed 11 points.

At the start of the third quarter, South Carolina continued their newfound momentum and pushed the lead to as much as 11 points. The defense and the bench scoring began to overwhelm the Hawkeyes as the game progressed. The Gamecocks bench outscored Iowa’s a lopsided 37-0.

In the final quarter, the margin was as wide as 14 points, with the Gamecocks anticipating the confetti drop. Despite the matchup having three lead changes and five ties, South Carolina took ultimate control down the stretch.

When the final seconds ticked off, and the final buzzer sounded, the Gamecocks had their third championship since 2017, on a 12-point victory, over the two-time runners-up Iowa.

Revenge was accomplished, according to sophomore guard Raven Johnson. Although she did not score much (3), her dogged defense produced four steals, two blocks, and five defensive rebounds. Her mission was accomplished. When she was guarding Clark, the Iowa star only scored seven points.

“I was ready for the moment,” Johnson said. “And I take defense very hard, like I take it to heart. I studied her moves, and I was ready. I had confidence this year. I was telling myself last year’s not going to happen again.”

Cardoso led the Gamecocks with her double-double of 15 points and 17 rebounds, in addition to three blocks. Three of her teammates also reached the double-digit plateau: Tessa Johnson (19), Te-Hina Paopao (14) and Chloe Kitts (11).

Besides Clark’s numbers, Kate Martin added 16 points and five rebounds. Sydney Affolter scored 12 points, while Hannah Stuelke gave the Hawkeyes 11 points.

All-Tournament Team

  • Kamilla Cardoso, Most Outstanding Player
  • Tessa Johnson
  • Caitlin Clark
  • Hannah Stuelke
  • Paige Bueckers (UConn)

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