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NCAA women’s championship: South Carolina spoils Caitlin Clark’s last college game

Alek Anaya, May 4 2024—

There are various ways to describe the NCAA women’s basketball championship on Apr. 7 but “Historic” is probably the most accurate. The game saw an electric matchup between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the South Carolina Gamecocks. And for the first time in history, the women’s championship game had more viewers than the men’s final. A total of 18.9 million people tuned in, which skyrocketed to 24.1 million in the final quarter. A much higher figure compared to the men’s final which recorded 14.8 million viewers.

The main reason? Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark, who is arguably one of college basketball’s biggest prospects ever. The fourth-year player finished the season with the most points ever by a collegiate player, breaking hall of famer Pete Maravich’s record that had held it since 1970. She looked to avenge Iowa’s championship game loss last year and win the school’s first basketball title ever. However, Clark was not the only reason behind the rise in viewership, the matchup was one for the ages as a stacked South Carolina team sought to end the season unbeaten. Not to mention they also wanted revenge on the team that eliminated them in the semifinal last year.

Iowa came out with a bang as Kate Marten hit a three in her first shot to get the ball rolling. They quickly took a 10-0 lead in the first quarter after the Gamecocks missed their first 5 shots of the night. Everything seemed to work for Caitlin Clark who meticulously pulled apart the Gamecocks defence, dribbling to the basket, hitting shots left and right, and even pulling up for a 30-foot three-pointer all the way from the logo. The first quarter finished with Clark getting the mismatch she wanted by drawing the Gamecock’s centre on coverage. The playbook usually dictates that one would think she would use speed and ability to get past the taller player. No need. Clark pulled up a static three-pointer over the 6’7 centre and, got nothing but net to get the Hawkeyes up 27-20. She finished the quarter with 18 points which is the most in a quarter of a championship game in history. 

The second quarter saw the Gamecock’s come out shooting early to get back in the game. And after what was probably the hardest-fought quarter they got their first lead of the game with five minutes remaining. The shift was largely due to the Gamecocks’s rookie sensation Tesa Johnson coming off the bench to give them a boost of energy and offence. The score was back and forth until the dying seconds when the Gamecocks took a three-point lead to finish the first half 49-46.

The second half saw a much superior Gamecock team that defensively clamped down. Sometimes guarding Caitlin Clark when she was off the ball all the way from behind the halfcourt line. Iowa did not make it easy for them, fighting back from a fourteen-point deficit to make it only a five-point game. But in the end, even with Clark’s 30 points, Gamecock prevailed and got the championship win.

It was Brazilian star Kamilla Cardos who took home the MVP award after notching 15 points and 17 rebounds. The 6’7 centre was too much for the Hawkeyes who were out-rebounded 49-25, including 17 offensive rebounds that led to 30 second chance points, a very impressive feat. Gamecocks’s bench was also a key factor in their win, giving the starters a rest and providing the boost the team needed. It was indeed Tesa Johnson coming off the bench who led the team in scoring with 19 points. It was this strength in numbers that gave them the edge, as the Hawkeyes bench could not get any points on the board.

A week later all eyes turned to the WNBA draft where Caitlin Clark was selected first overall by the Indiana Fever. She will now seek to turn the team’s fortune around as last season they finished last in the East. Rival star, Kamilla Cardoso was selected third overall by the Chicago Sky, a deserved achievement after her great game in the NCAA final. The rivalry will continue when Chicago travels to Indiana on Jun. 1 in a very anticipated showdown, where Clark will want to avenge her loss in the final.

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