March Madness

South Carolina defeats Caitlin Clark and Iowa to win national championship and complete perfect season

South Carolina stopped the nation's top player to become the 10th women's basketball team to go unbeaten

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It was the perfect revenge.

The South Carolina women's basketball team completed an unbeaten season on Sunday by defeating Caitlin Clark and Iowa 87-75 in the national championship game at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland.

With the victory, South Carolina finished 38-0 and avenged last season's semifinal loss to Iowa, which at the time spoiled the Gamecocks' quest for a perfect season.

This time, with five new starters, South Carolina played spoiler, denying Clark a national championship in what was the final game of her historic collegiate career. The all-time leading scorer in Division I men's or women's history set two more records in the loss -- most points in a single quarter of a national championship game, and most career points in the NCAA tournament -- but finished one win short of her ultimate goal after losing in the title game for the second consecutive season.  

South Carolina is just the 10th undefeated champion in the history of Division I women's basketball -- joining UConn, Texas, Tennessee and Baylor. UConn, which has had five perfect seasons, was the last women's basketball team to do so in 2016.

“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. It’s awesome....It’s awesome. It’s awesome. It’s unbelievable,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. "When young people lock in and have a belief, and have a trust, and their parents have that same trust, this is what can happen. They made history. They etched their names in the history books.”

South Carolina captured its third national title in seven seasons, having also won in 2017 and 2022. The team had to overcome a historic start to the game by Clark and withstand a late run to secure its latest title.

Iowa opened the game on a 10-0 run that was capped with a Clark triple, while South Carolina went scoreless over the first three minutes of the game. Clark went on to score 13 straight points for the Hawkeyes to extend their lead to 20-9.

Clark finished the first quarter with 18 points, the most ever in a single quarter of the championship game since the NCAA switched from halves in 2016. Clark shot 5-for-8 in the quarter, including 3-for-4 from deep, and 5-for-6 from the line to give Iowa a 27-20 lead after the first.

South Carolina then held Clark to just three points in the quarter as she shot 1-for-6 from the field in the quarter. The Gamecocks opened the second on a 7-0 run to even the score and regained the lead on a layup by Kamilla Cardoso that made it 36-34 with 4:58 left in the half.

Clark's 3-pointer with two minutes left in the half, her only bucket of the quarter, gave Iowa a 44-40 advantage. South Carolina then closed the half on a 9-2 run to take a 49-46 lead into the break.

The Gamecocks' lead grew to 11 points after a 6-0 run to open the third. Clark's layup capped a 9-2 Iowa run to pull the Hawkeyes within two at 57-55. South Carolina answered with an 8-0 run that was capped on a three by Bree Hall for a 65-55 lead. The Gamecocks took an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter.  

Iowa went on an 8-0 run, pulling within six after a three by Gabbie Marshall that pulled the Hawkeyes within 76-70 with 6:42 remaining. Nursing a six-point lead, Cardoso all but sealed the victory by blocking a layup attempt by Addison O'Grady and converting a layup at the other end to push the South Carolina lead to 83-75 with 2:30 left.

Cardoso finished with 15 points and 17 rebounds. Tessa Johnson led South Carolina with 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting off the bench.

Head coach Dawn Staley became the fifth coach to win three national championships, joining Geno Auriemma, Pat Summitt, Kim Mulkey and Tara VanDerveer.

Clark finished with 30 points in the loss, closing her career with 3,951 career points. She departs having taken the sport to new heights and will now move on to the WNBA where she is expected to be the first pick in the draft by the Indiana Fever on April 15.

"I think the biggest thing is it’s really hard to win these things," Clark said. "I think I know that better than most people by now, to be so close twice really hurts."

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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