South Carolina Basketball: The Gamecocks are National Champions

Dawn Staley's South Carolina basketball team earned their third National Championship, beating Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes.
South Carolina basketball point guard Raven Johnson
South Carolina basketball point guard Raven Johnson / Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
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South Carolina basketball fans had felt that this moment was coming for quite a while.

Once it became clear that the 2023-2024 version of the Gamecocks was the best team in the country (it took all of about a week into the season to dispel any premature rumors of a "rebuilding season"), the Caitlin Clark-led Iowa Hawkeyes became the target for USC fans. Sure, LSU and UConn would have made suitable opponents, but it only seemed right that the Gamecocks and Hawkeyes would square off for the National Championship.

After ruining South Carolina's chance at an undefeated season in last year's Final Four, and after Iowa fans' relentless online hatred of Dawn Staley, Gamecock Nation had wanted to exact some revenge on the black and gold.

But not as much as the players.

Raven Johnson, Kamilla Cardoso, Ashlyn Watkins, Bree Hall, and Chloe Kitts all returned from last year's team and had this game on their mind for the last year, and now, in Cleveland's Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, the National Championship Game against Iowa was here.

The opening tip went to Kamilla Cardoso and the Gamecocks, but it was Kate Martin who opened the scoring with a 3-pointer after a stop. Martin scored again on a fadeaway midrange, and then Sydney Affolter got a fast break layup to fall to go up 7-0. Then, after another Gamecock miss, Caitlin Clark threw Bree Hall to the floor (with no call) before hitting a 3 of her own.

The Gamecocks started 0-5 from the floor before a Kamilla Cardoso layup. Caitlin Clark scored 13 in a row for Iowa, and the Gamecocks were only able to get buckets from Cardoso and Te-Hina Paopao during Clark's hot streak. At the media timeout the Hawkeyes led 20-9 after Clark hit 2 3s and went to the free throw line for 6 foul shots in the opening 4 minutes.

After the timeout, the Gamecocks got two quick buckets, but a Kate Martin flop netted a foul on Ashlyn Watkins and two free throw makes. MiLaysia Fulwiley (who scored and assisted on the first two baskets), scored two more times in a row, and all of a sudden USC had cut the lead to just 4 points. A Tessa Johnson fadeaway in the lane made the score 22-20 but Clark answered with 5 points to close the quarter at 27-20.

Johnson started the 2nd quarter with another jumper and then a fastbreak layup. Both scores came off of Iowa turnovers. When Kamilla Cardoso converted an and-one, the score was tied after the 7-0 run. Raven Johnson blocked Clark on a drive, but the ball wound up in the waiting arms of Sydney Affolter who canned a 3-pointer.

The two teams traded buckets and misses, and Tessa Johnson tied the game with a 3-pointer. The officials continued to call every touch foul in favor of Iowa, but the Gamecocks took their first lead anyway. Ashlyn Watkins, Tessa Johnson, Bree Hall, Addison O'Grady, and Sydney Affolter each got called for their 2nd fouls in the 2nd quarter, and 7 of the 9 Gamecocks who played were called for fouls. Mysteriously, Caitlin Clark had 0 fouls.

As the 2nd quarter finished up, the two teams passed the lead back and forth, but the Gamecocks closed on an 8-2 run to head into halftime with a 49-46 lead.

Chloe Kitts scored the first 4 points of the 2nd half, and Te-Hina Paopao made it a 6-0 run for the Gamecocks before Lisa Bluder had to call a timeout. The lead was 55-46 after the run (it was 11-0 going back to the 1st half). A quick 5-0 run from Iowa was silenced by a tough jumper from Bree Hall.

Iowa's Hannah Stuelke and Carolina's Chloe Kitts were each called for their 2nd fouls in the opening minute of the half, and the Gamecocks kept a hold on their lead as they continued to limit Clark (she had just 4 points on 8 shots. Tessa Johnson and Bree Hall hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cap off an 8-0 run and move the score to 65-55.

Kate Martin made a pair of foul shots for Iowa, but Tessa Johnson erased it with another 3-point make. The Gamecocks led 68-59 going into the final period as they had outscored Iowa 59-39 since Iowa's hot start.

The 4th quarter started with another Johnson bucket as Sydney Affolter fell down, and after a Caitlin Clark make, MiLaysia Fulwiley, Kamilla Cardoso, and Chloe Kitts went to work, pushing their lead to 14 points.

A lightning-quick 8-0 run from the Hawkeyes cut the lead to just 6 points, though, and the margin hovered around that mark for the next couple of minutes as the two teams went cold, each scoring just 2 points over 2 minutes to make the score 78-72 with 4:39 left in the game.

An invisible foul/and-one from Sydney Affolter brought the USC lead down to just 5, but a few moments later, a huge offensive rebound and putback from Kamilla Cardoso made the score 83-75.

Caitlin Clark desperately chucked up bad shots down the stretch, but South Carolina basketball cruised down the stretch to the program's third National Championship, finishing the 10th undefeated season in the history of women's college basketball.

87. 850. Final. 75. 483. South Carolina Basketball vs. Iowa Hawkeyes