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How South Carolina won the women’s NCAA final game in 2024 over Iowa

Cleveland: In the end, South Carolina successfully concluded its “revenge tour,” defeating Iowa 87-75 to secure the national championship and preventing Caitlin Clark from winning a title of her own. Drama, excitement, passion, and yes, a ton of points from Clark were present in the much awaited rematch of the national semifinals from the previous year. However, this time around, South Carolina’s much deeper bench—as well as its new class of superstar freshmen—made the difference.

Coach Dawn Staley fully retooled her team and accomplished what many considered implausible to start the season: win a national championship with a brand different starting lineup after Iowa prevented South Carolina from winning a crown the previous year.

The heartbreak is particularly severe for Iowa. In addition to the Hawkeyes’ losses in the national championship game the previous three years, this one also marked the conclusion of senior Clark, Kate Martin, and Gabbie Marshall’s careers. Staley, on the other hand, sobbed as she acknowledged the victory.

South Carolina became the 10th Division I women’s basketball team to run the table after winning their second title in three years, as explained by ESPN’s Andrea Adelson, Katie Barnes, Charlie Creme, and Jake Trotter.

What made South Carolina the victorious team?
The size advantage of South Carolina was a much-discussed potential X factor going into this matchup. with justification. It was enormous. The Gamecocks eventually wore out Iowa with their superior rebounding and shot-blocking abilities due to their sheer size.

In the end, the statistics spoke for themselves: Kamilla Cardoso led the way with 17 rebounding, and the rebound difference was 51-29. South Carolina scored 48 points in the paint and 30 points on second chances. Of the eight blocks the Gamecocks had, Cardoso also had three. Even though Bree Hall and Raven Johnson tormented the team nonstop, Iowa got out to a fast start and Clark was excellent early on. Iowa never regained the lead until the very last minute of the first half, and Clark was just 3-of-13 in the second and third quarters.

Another significant difference from the South Carolina squad that fell to Iowa in the national semifinals last year was the inclusion of Te-Hina Paopao and Tessa Johnson on this year’s squad. Now, the Gamecocks could shoot; in that game, they had made just 4 of 20 3-pointers. South Carolina, the third-most accurate 3-point shooting team in the nation this season, made 8 of 19 overall, with senior Paopao and rookie Johnson, who recorded a career-high 19 points on Sunday, combining for a 6-of-10 shooting performance from beyond the arc. — Crème

South Carolina is the first team in eight years and the tenth overall. There aren’t many seasons like these! It’s difficult to say exactly where this team stands, but UConn 2001–02 was, in my opinion, the greatest ever. This South Carolina squad, along with Tennessee 1997–98 and UConn 2009–10, should be discussed in the tier directly following that.

It is truly amazing to be able to run the table in this day and age. This season, the Gamecocks led Division I in scoring margin after their complete dominance. And all of that came after South Carolina lost every starter from the team that finished second in the national championship the previous year. Nobody anticipated that they would go unbeaten. All the praise is due to them for that. — Barnes

What aspect of this game surprised you the most?
I would have believed Iowa had a strong opportunity to win if you had told me Kamilla Cardoso would shoot 7 of 14 for 15 points in this game. Cardoso wasn’t the game’s MVP, despite South Carolina dominating inside with 48 paint points and a massive 51-29 edge on the boards. It was Johnson, Tessa. Even though Clark finished with 30 points, she didn’t contribute anything after the third quarter. In this matchup, the Gamecocks were determined not to let her defeat them. — Adelson

Which player stood out the most?

After entering the game as a reserve, Tessa Johnson scored a career-high 19 points. According to ESPN Stats & Information, she set the example for the South Carolina substitutes, who outscored Iowa’s bench 37-0, the largest margin in a women’s national championship game since at least 2000. Johnson has only led South Carolina in scoring in one game all season prior to this tournament. However, she led the Gamecocks with 15 points in their Elite Eight victory over Oregon State. She then became the first player to record a career best in a national championship game, along with former South Carolina guard Destanni Henderson (26 points in 2022). Oh, and Johnson is only a first-year student. — Trotter

What or someone else was a crucial X factor?

Bree Hall stated on Saturday that she thought the game will be decided by her team’s bench. She was accurate. All season long, the Gamecocks bench has been effective, and it delivered when it needed most. It extended beyond Johnson. Nine points by MiLaysia Fulwiley and five important rebounds from Ashlyn Watkins. It was obvious time and time again that Iowa would not be able to compete in this crucial area of the game. The Hawkeyes knew going into the matchup that they would have to play almost the whole game with their small bench. It was simply insufficient. — Adelson

What made the final different from the rest?

When Raven Johnson was placed on Clark by the Gamecocks. Johnson was entirely unguarded when Clark waived off her dribble behind the 3-point line during their Final Four matchup the previous year. Johnson passed rather than take a clear shot, which made the incident go viral and embarrassed the guard. Johnson called her Sunday’s completion of her “revenge tour.”

Dawn Staley switched Johnson to Clark after Clark scored 18 points in the first quarter, setting a record for the women’s championship game. For the remainder of the game, Clark scored just 12 points, primarily while Johnson guarded her. As the starting center back, Johnson allowed Clark to shoot 3 of 11 from the field overall. Just before halftime, Johnson even stole the ball from Clark at midcourt and raced in for a layup. For Iowa to pull off the upset, Clark would have needed to put on a tremendous show, but Johnson made sure that didn’t happen. — Trotter

What kind of legacy does Iowa have?

This Iowa Hawkeye team, led by Caitlin Clark, has completely transformed the landscape of women’s basketball. They have made certain that nothing will remain the same for the sport, from sellout crowds to record-high ratings. Heck, at last, “Saturday Night Live” cracked a humorous joke about women’s basketball! Despite Iowa’s defeat in consecutive championship games, this team’s prowess should not be overlooked. — Barnes

Written by schooleiwa

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