Caitlin Clark’s bid for national title ends against undefeated South Carolina

Caitlin Clark’s bid for national title ends against undefeated South Carolina
Image by Allen Chen for The UCSD Guardian

April 7, 2024. Cleveland. 19,000 fans packed the RocketMortgage Fieldhouse. 

 

The building has been the site of a dozen NBA Finals games, but on that night, it was not an NBA game that those fans were there to watch. Instead, they had made their way to Cleveland to watch Caitlin Clark, the sharpshooting Iowa guard. This was the final chapter of Clark’s collegiate story, the greatest scorer in the history of the college game. For one more night, she was the center of the basketball universe, the young woman from Des Moines who couldn’t stop making history.

 

But it would be a difficult road for Iowa. To make their second straight national title game appearance, they had to battle through LSU, the reigning national champions, and UConn, led by a resurgent Paige Bueckers.

 

Early in the tournament, Iowa’s March Madness was up and down. 16-seed Holy Cross would be easily dismantled, as Iowa went on to win by 26, but the Hawkeyes only squeaked by West Virginia as Clark put up 32. Colorado was no test for the Hawkeyes either, but on deck was LSU. 

 

A rematch of the previous year’s national championship game, Iowa–LSU featured some of women’s college basketball’s biggest stars, as Clark would face Angel Reese, Flau’jae Johnson, and Hailey Van Lith. However, the Tigers were completely unable to contain Clark. In the second half, Clark humiliated the LSU defense, and the reigning national champions were out in the Elite Eight. 

 

The Final Four saw a matchup of the two best guards in the country, with Paige Bueckers leading the Huskies to their 15th Final Four in the last 16 years. Nika Muhl’s impressive defense held Clark to only 21, her lowest points tally of the season. With the Hawkeyes up by one in the final seconds, a controversial moving screen call ended UConn’s hopes of yet another national championship appearance.

 

While Iowa had to battle some of the toughest teams in the country to return to the title game, undefeated South Carolina faced no real title challengers, with none of their opponents finishing in the pre-tournament top 10. Other than a slight scare against Indiana, it was smooth sailing for the Gamecocks. And while they didn’t receive the media hype that other teams did, the South Carolina team that entered the final had an incredible season. Not only had they not lost, but they dominated most of their opponents. Only Tennessee came close; no other opponent came within five points of defeating South Carolina.

 

The national championship was truly a battle for the ages, with the women’s basketball star of the future against one of the most dominant teams in college basketball history. Iowa lit up the scoreboard in the first quarter, as Clark set a championship game record with 18 points in the opening frame. After that, the Iowa offense slowed down, and South Carolina was able to take a slim halftime lead. Iowa continued to struggle throughout the second half as South Carolina built on their lead and was able to easily claim their second national championship in three years. The key to the game was rebounding, as the Gamecocks dominated the glass, out-rebounding their opponents by 22.

 

While her college career didn’t end with her lifting the national championship trophy, there is no denying Clark’s impact on women’s college basketball. Each of her last three games set viewership records for college basketball, with over 10 million viewers each game and the national championship game peaking at over 20 million viewers. To put things in perspective, the Iowa–South Carolina match is the most watched basketball broadcast in the last five years, with more viewers than every college basketball game (men’s or women’s) and every NBA game (including playoffs and NBA Finals matchups).

 

But even as Clark, Reese, and others head to the WNBA, there’s still a lot of talent in the college game. Bueckers returns for another season as UConn looks to head back to the mountaintop and USC superstar Juju Watkins will look to build on an exciting freshman season. While next season will be exciting, the Caitlin Clark era of women’s college basketball was truly special and will be missed.

Leave a Comment
About the Contributor
Allen Chen
Allen Chen, Illustrator
Allen Chen is a third year HCI Design major, and a lactose-intolerant ice cream lover.
Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$0
$2500
Contributed
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The UCSD Guardian
$0
$2500
Contributed
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The UCSD Guardian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *