Friday, April 12, 2024

March Madness: Iowa tops UConn to face undefeated South Carolina in title game

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The Iowa Hawkeyes are headed back to center stage after defeating a gritty and resilient  UConn team in the women’s semifinal on Friday night. But waiting for them will be their fiercest competitor yet – the undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks. 

Iowa and South Carolina will face off in Cleveland on Sunday afternoon after two very different journeys this season. 

Guard Caitlin Clark, #22 of the Iowa Hawkeyes, signs autographs as she leaves the court after the game against the West Virginia Mountaineers during their second round match-up in the 2024 NCAA Division 1 Womens Basketball Championship at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on March 25, 2024, in Iowa City, Iowa.  (Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark has left an indelible mark on college basketball on her way to the WNBA. In her final season at Iowa, Clark became the all-time leading women’s scorer and, eventually, the NCAA Division I overall career scoring leader. All she has left to achieve is becoming a national champion.

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But with all eyes on Iowa and the record books, South Carolina has flown under the radar, and Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks are undoubtedly out for revenge following last season’s heartbreaking loss to the Hawkeyes in the women’s semifinals. 

Final Four recap 

Kamilla Cardoso backs down defender

Kamilla Cardoso, #10 of the South Carolina Gamecocks, works against River Baldwin, #1 of the NC State Wolfpack, in the first half during the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament Final Four semifinal game at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on April 5, 2024, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

South Carolina finished their semifinal matchup against North Carolina State the same way they entered it – undefeated. All-America center Kamilla Cardoso dropped a team-high of 22 points with 11 rebounds to help South Carolina steamroll past the Wolfpack with a 78-59 victory. 

After closing out the first half with a one point lead, the Gamecocks turned it up, outscoring NC State 29-6. Raven Johnson added 13 points, two rebounds and five assists for the Gamecocks while Te-Hina Paopao had 10 points and six assists. 

While the Gamecocks easily secured their place in the final, Iowa battled UConn in a semifinal that was really anyone’s game. 

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The Huskies successfully shutdown Clark in the first half, but the prolific shooter still managed to score 21 points including three momentum-turning 3-pointers in the second half to lead the Hawkeyes’ late push to victory. 

Iowa held a four point lead with just under a minute remaining but Nika Muhl hit a 3-pointer with 39 seconds left to keep the Huskies alive. A controversial offensive foul called on Aaliyah Edwards with three seconds remaining sealed UConn’s fate. 

Iowa moved on after a 71-69 victory. 

Familiar territory

Caitlin Clark drives the ball

Caitlin Clark, #22 of the Iowa Hawkeyes, drives to the rim in the second half during the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament Final Four semifinal game against the UConn Huskies at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on April 5, 2024, in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

South Carolina are looking to become the first team to win a national championship undefeated since UConn did so in 2016. But this isn’t their first go at. 

The Gamecocks reached the semifinal last year with a perfect record, but it was Iowa that ended their run there. Clark dropped 41 points in the 77-73 victory to advance to the final, where they would eventually lose to LSU. 

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But despite the circumstances being the same, no one is counting South Carolina out. 

“South Carolina has been the top of the top. They’re in a different league. We’re going to do everything we can to try to be right there with them,” Clark said Friday night. “But, yeah, I think the biggest thing is enjoy this tonight, and we’ll go over the scout early in the morning.”

Chasing history as well, Iowa is looking to earn the program’s first title – a feat that has eluded Clark up until this point. 

The women’s national championship game will tip off in Cleveland on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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