The Iowa Hawkeyes are heading to the national title game. In one of the best performances in Final Four history, Caitlin Clark put on a show to lead the Hawkeyes to a 77-73 lead over the South Carolina Gamecocks, which bounced the defending champions from the NCAA Tournament and handed them their first loss in 42 games.
The story of the first half was the Clark and Monika Czinano duo torching the vaunted South Carolina defense while Zia Cooke cooked and the Gamecocks pummeled the Hawkeyes on the offensive glass. Iowa led after one quarter, 22-12, thanks to Clark and their uptempo offense oftentimes catching SC’s defense on its collective heels. And to make matters worse for Carolina, late in the first quarter, Aliyah Boston picked up her second foul, which led to her getting benched for the rest of the half.
The bench came up big in Boston’s absence, though, particularly Laeticia Amihere and Kamilla Cardoso. With Boston sitting and watching the pair combined for 14 points and, crucially, nine offensive rebounds off of the bench in the first half, with those extra possessions oftentimes leading to points.
By the time the break rolled around, the Hawkeyes found themselves holding onto a 38-37 lead behind a 19-point, 6-assist half from the National Player of the Year. South Carolina, meanwhile, got 18 points and five boards from Cooke.
Iowa came out of the locker room and caught fire right away, scoring the first 10 points of the second half. Dawn Staley took a risk early on in the frame, as Boston picked up her third foul with 7:41 remaining in the quarter but remained in the game. The defending champions managed to keep the Hawkeyes within arm’s reach, but still, the 59-55 deficit marked only the second time all year that South Carolina found themselves trailing after three.
While the Gamecocks started the fourth with four straight points to take the lead, Clark responded with a haymaker. Iowa immediately went on a 7-2 run, with Clark pulling up from distance twice and setting up Czinano for a layup to regain the lead and build a cushion.
But the Hawkeyes could never quite put Carolina away, even when their offense would hit a cold spell. After a Raven Johnson three with 4:21 left in the fourth — the exact shot that Iowa’s defense was willing to give up all night — South Carolina went nearly three minutes without a basket. To compensate for it, their defense buckled down and limited the Hawkeyes to only one made field goal in the same period of time, a layup by Clark with 3:32 remaining.
A made free throw by Boston with 1:37 broke the cold spell, giving Iowa a 71-69 lead. Clark and Cooke traded layups as the game entered its final minute, and with less than seconds left, Clark launched from behind the three-point line in search of a dagger.
The ball went in and out, but in quite the twist of fate, an offensive rebound looked like it was going to slam the door shut on the Gamecocks. McKenna Warnock reeled in the miss and got the ball to her superstar guard, who was fouled and made it a two-possession game at the free throw line. While Johnson scored on the ensuing possession, Clark, who scored or assisted on every basket Iowa scored in the fourth, took care of business at the free throw line to ice the win.
Clark went for 41 points, eight assists, and six rebounds in the win, while Czinano went for 18 points. Cooke’s 24 points and eight rebounds led the way for the Gamecocks, while Cardoso had 14 points and 14 rebounds off the bench.
To put Clark’s historic scoring output this tournament and the Big Ten tournament in perspective, she’s now outscored the Iowa football team’s entire 2022 output this postseason.
Caitlin Clark has scored more points in postseason play (235) than Iowa Football scored all season (230).
That is insane.
— Mallory Hartley (@malloryhartley) April 1, 2023
Earlier in the night, LSU took down Virginia Tech to earn a spot in the national championship game. The Tigers and the Hawkeyes will go head-to-head on Sunday afternoon.