Women’s Final Four: Caitlin Clark, Iowa stun South Carolina; Hawkeyes to play LSU for national championship

South Carolina came into Friday’s Final Four matchup against Iowa with a national championship resume: 42 straight wins, three-time Naismith Coach of the Year Dawn Staley, 2022 Naismith Player of the Year Aliyah Boston and what’s widely considered the nation’s best defense. What the Gamecocks didn’t have is Caitlin Clark, and that made all the difference.

Clark recorded 41 points, eight assists and six rebounds to lead Iowa to a 77-73 upset over the defending champions. To put Clark’s incredible effort in perspective, the last player to score 30-plus against the Gamecocks’ vaunted defense was UConn’s Paige Bueckers (31) on Feb. 28, 2021. Clark now owns the second-highest scoring game in women’s Final Four history as well, trailing only Sheryl Swoopes’ 47 points for Texas Tech in the 1993 national championship.

While no word seems worthy of describing a performance like Clark’s, the one who authored it offered one after the game: “belief.” 

“We had nothing to lose,” Clark said. “I have all the confidence in the world in this group, and they believe right back in me. That’s all you need: teammates that believe in you, coaches that believe in you, a program and a university that supports you, the state of Iowa, they supported me like no other, and I love it.” 

Iowa entered the fourth quarter with only a four-point advantage, and given South Carolina’s unparalleled depth and Clark’s fatigue, the game looked as if it could’ve easily shifted in the Gamecocks’ direction. But Clark would not be denied her entry into the college basketball pantheon, as she willed her team to victory by scoring or assisting on all 18 of Iowa’s fourth-quarter points, including scoring the final 11. Clark made it all happen despite struggling from 3-point range (5-of-17), making up for it by going 10-for-19 on 2-pointers. 

This masterful performance from Clark comes less than a week after what was statistically an even better one. In a 97-83 win over Louisville in the Elite Eight, Clark recorded the first 40-point triple-double in NCAA Tournament history with 41 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. Clark is now the only player in NCAA Tournament history to have back-to-back 40-point games. 

While Clark shined on the sport’s brightest stage, Boston struggled with foul trouble all game, finishing with eight points and 10 rebounds. Zia Cooke and Kamila Cardoso picked up the slack, however. Cooke recorded a team-high 24 points and eight rebounds, while Cardoso registered 14 points on 7-for-9 shooting and 14 rebounds. Cardoso was also a huge reason why South Carolina owned a massive offensive offensive rebounding advantage (26-5), as she grabbed nine of her own.

“You got to give them a lot of credit,” Clark said of South Carolina. “They’re a tremendous team, they’ve had a tremendous year, obviously so well-coached. They killed us on the glass, but we never hung our heads. We just came right back down on every single possession and got after it.”

Iowa will move on to face LSU, which beat Virginia Tech 79-72 in the first Final Four game, in the national championship. That game is slated for Sunday, 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC. Both teams are looking to win their first ever national title.