Dawn’s Dynasty continues

Gamecock women’s basketball captures third NCAA championship

Posted 4/10/24

As the confetti flew at the end of the April 7 women’s college basketball championship, an emotional Dawn Staley threw her hands up to bask in her team’s victory. 

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Dawn’s Dynasty continues

Gamecock women’s basketball captures third NCAA championship


As the confetti flew at the end of the April 7 women’s college basketball championship, an emotional Dawn Staley threw her hands up to bask in her team’s victory. 

The Gamecocks cemented their place in the history books, defeating America’s golden child, Caitlin Clark, and her Iowa Hawkeyes 87-75 in a national championship game to win its 38th game and secure the program’s first wire-to-wire undefeated season.

“It’s a heavy load to be undefeated, to finish the job,” Staley said. “You get emotional because you just want that for them, and you’re happy that you’re able to because only one team wins a national championship.”

The Gamecocks captured its third national title in program history, all under Staley, and beat the team that beat them last year to earn it. 

“I did want to see them in the national championship this year because of what happened last year. It was an apology to my teammates, my coaches and myself,” Raven Johnson said. “It was a revenge story, and there’s no better way, to play them in the championship and beat them.” 

After being disrespected and waved off by Clark in a now-viral clip from last year’s Final Four, Johnson got her revenge and ensured Clark ended her collegiate career ringless. 

Johnson was the primary defender on Clark throughout the game, and after an explosive first quarter, the team did a solid job of containing her the rest of the way. She finished with 30 points, but 18 of those came in the opening quarter. 

When guarded by Johnson, Clark scored just seven points on 3-11 shooting. Johnson’s scrappy defense forced four Clark turnovers, including a steal at the end of the first half to give the Gamecocks a three-point lead and momentum going into the break. 

“I was ready for the moment, and I take defense very hard,” Johnson said. “I had confidence this year. I mean, I was telling myself that last year is not going to happen again.”

Offensively, the Gamecocks stuck with what got them to the championship game and relied on their depth to win them the game. Four Gamecocks had double-digit points and nine total scored. 

Freshman Tessa Johnson led the team with a career-high 19 points on 7-11 shooting off the bench. Kamilla Cardoso and Chloe Kitts had double-doubles with points and rebounds. Cardoso had 15 points and 17 rebounds, while Kitts had 11 and 10.

“I feel like I just wanted to get out there in this tournament, just play really well for my teammates, for my coaches and to win the championship,” Cardoso said. “I think that’s what I did.”

The depth of South Carolina and the lack of it for Iowa was too much for the Hawkeyes to overcome. The Gamecock bench scored 37 points to Iowa’s zero. 

The Hawkeyes played one bench player for more than 10 minutes and only two for more than five. Everyone else who touched the floor was either a starter or checked in during the game’s final seconds. Clark, Gabbie Marshall and Kate Martin played all 40 minutes. 

It was a slow start for South Carolina. Iowa jumped out to a 10-0 lead and Clark exploded for her first 18 points to give Iowa a 27-20 lead after one. The Gamecocks quickly chipped away and eventually took the lead midway through the second quarter.

Iowa never recaptured the lead after the closing seconds of the first half, but the Hawkeyes never let the game get out of reach until the closing minutes. South Carolina would grow its lead, but Iowa would chip it to a couple of possessions. 

South Carolina’s effort on the boards ensured the game never swayed back in Iowa’s favor. The Gamecocks had 30 second-chance points and outrebounded the Hawkeyes 51-29. 

It was the final game for senior Kamilla Cardoso. She goes out a champion and will prepare for the WNBA draft on April 15 where she is a projected top-five pick. The rest of the team is eligible to return.

Clark ends her career as the sport’s all-time leading scorer and a two-time National Player of the Year. She is all but guaranteed to be the No. 1 overall pick to the Indiana Fever where she would team up with former Gamecock great and national champion Aliyah Boston. 

South Carolina now heads into the offseason where they will look to carry this success into next season and become the first team since 2016 UCONN to defend its title. 

“When you win a national championship, there’s more trust that’s built that you could take into the summer workouts, and the postseason workouts, and in the fall and then into another season,” Staley said. “This is the reason why, and it builds trust amongst everybody that’s involved.”

Gamecocks, Iowa, Dawn Staley, NCAA tournament, NCAA women's basketball, Caitlin Clark


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