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South Carolina defeats Iowa to win the women's NCAA basketball championship

South Carolina's players and coach celebrate after the college basketball championship game against Iowa in the women's NCAA Tournament on Sunday. South Carolina won 87-75.
Morry Gash
/
AP
South Carolina's players and coach celebrate after the college basketball championship game against Iowa in the women's NCAA Tournament on Sunday. South Carolina won 87-75.

Updated April 7, 2024 at 8:24 PM ET

The South Carolina Gamecocks were crowned national women's champions on Sunday, beating fellow top-seed rival Iowa Hawkeyes and star Caitlin Clark 87-75.

The win gives coach Dawn Staley and her team a third NCAA title, capping a perfect season for the Gamecocks.

The Hawkeyes had a strong start shooting spree buoyed by Clark. The Iowa guard sank a last-minute 3-pointer to notch 18 points in the first quarter – the most ever scored in a single quarter of a tournament game in NCAA history. In the end, even with the league's top player, Iowa was no match for South Carolina's teamwork.

Four players netted double-digits, led by freshman Tessa Johnson at 19 points. Senior Kamilla Cardoso, who earned MVP honors, powered through a recent knee injury to put up 15 points and 17 rebounds. Defensive work from Bree Hall and Raven Johnson — whose steal from Clark broke open the Gamecocks' lead at halftime — slowed Clark's stride.

It was redemption for Staley after losing to Iowa in last year's semifinal. Staley, who had to rebuild a young team after losing five players from the starting lineup last year, was emotional after the buzzer.

"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 in a post-game interview with ESPN.

Freshman Johnson credited the team's success with the environment Staley helped create: "We're unselfish people and that's how we win it," she said after the game.

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) passes over South Carolina guard Raven Johnson (25) during the first half of the Final Four college basketball championship game in the women's NCAA Tournament, Sunday, April 7, 2024, in Cleveland.
Carolyn Kaster / AP
/
AP
Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) passes over South Carolina guard Raven Johnson (25) during the first half of the college basketball championship game in the women's NCAA Tournament on Sunday in Cleveland.

After the game, Staley praised Clark's historic run in remarks to the stadium crowd.

"I want to personally thank Caitlin Clark for lifting up our sport," she said. "She carried a heavy load. You are one of the GOATs of our game and we appreciate you."

It was Clark's last chance at a championship ring during her college career. She plans to enter the WNBA draft next year. But she's got other wins at top of mind.

"People will probably remember our two Final Fours and things like that," she told reporters. "But people aren't gonna remember every single win or every single loss. I think they're just gonna remember the moments that they shared at one of our games. Or watching on TV. Or how excited their young daughter or son got about watching women's basketball. I think that's pretty cool. Those are the things that mean the most to me."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Emma Bowman
[Copyright 2024 NPR]