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South Carolina beats off challenge from Iowa and Caitlin Clark to win NCAA women's championship

The unbeaten South Carolina Gamecocks defeated Iowa on Sunday, 87-75, in the NCAA women's championship.

The Gamecocks' win ended Caitlin Clark's final game at Iowa. In February, Clark became the all-time NCAA Division I scoring leader, smashing the late Pete Maravich's 54-year-old record. Clark scored 30 points on Sunday. 

South Carolina was 37-0 going into Sunday's game, becoming the first undefeated champion since UConn in 2016. Sunday marked their second national championship in three years and third in school history, according to CBS Sports

With Dawn Staley directing a relentless attack from the sideline, the Gamecocks became the 10th Division I team to go through a season without a loss. And they accomplished the feat after they lost all five starters from last season's team that lost to Clark's squad in the national semifinals.

NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament - National Championship
Kamilla Cardoso celebrates with head coach Dawn Staley of the South Carolina Gamecocks after beating the Iowa Hawkeyes in the 2024 NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament National Championship on April 07, 2024, in Cleveland, Ohio.  Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

"Just really want to say congratulations to Iowa and Caitlin for making it back to the national championship game," Staley said during the post-game news conference. "Obviously, they are a formidable opponent that took everything that we had to win the basketball game, but I just don't want to not utilize this opportunity to thank Caitlin for what she's done for women's basketball."

"Anytime someone like Coach Staley is able to recognize you and what you did for the game is pretty special," Clark said at the news conference. "And obviously she's someone I, you know, respect so much. I respect what she's done for South Carolina."

Clark did all she could to lead the Hawkeyes to their first championship. She scored 30 points, including a championship-record 18 in the first quarter. She will go down as one of the greatest players in NCAA history. She rewrote the record book at Iowa (34-5), finishing as the career leading scorer in NCAA Division I history with 3,951 career points.

She hopes her legacy isn't defined by falling short in two NCAA championship games, but more by the millions of new fans she helped bring into the game and the countless young girls and boys that she inspired.

"I mean, she has raised the excitement of our sport," Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said at the post-game conference. "Just because she does things in a different way than anyone else can do. Plus, she has all the intangibles. She's a great student, she's a great role model. She does everything."

NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament - National Championship
Caitlin Clark shoots a layup against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament National Championship on April 7, 2024, in Cleveland, Ohio. Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris tweeted their congratulations to South Carolina on Saturday evening.

"Congratulations to @GamecockWBB on closing out a perfect season with a NCAA Women's Basketball Championship win – your teamwork, focus, and tenacity was on full display all year," Mr. Biden wrote. "You've made your school and community proud."

 "Undefeated. Undisputed," Harris wrote, praising the team and Coach Staley. "I can't wait to see you again — this time, celebrating at the White House."

South Carolina has won three titles in the last eight years, including two of the past three, to lay claim to being the latest dynasty in women's basketball. Staley became the fifth coach to win three national championships, joining Geno Auriemma, Pat Summitt, Kim Mulkey and Tara VanDerveer.The Gamecocks, who have won 109 of their last 112 games, became the first team since UConn in 2016 to go undefeated. South Carolina had a couple scares throughout the season, but always found a way to win.

With most of the team returning next year except for star center Kamilla Cardoso, Staley's team is in a good position to keep this run going. Tessa Johnson led South Carolina with 19 points. Cardoso had 15 points and 17 rebounds.

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