March Madness: Caitlin Clark takes down undefeated South Carolina, leads Iowa to 1st national championship game

South Carolina had the size advantage. It had the likely No. 1 overall pick. It had the undefeated record. It had last year’s trophy. It had the best defense in the country. It had more depth, more experience, more top recruits.

Iowa had Caitlin Clark and some disrespect.

Advantage Iowa.

Led by a supernova playing point guard, the No. 2-seeded Hawkeyes ended undefeated No. 1 South Carolina's bid for back-to-back championships with a 77-73 win on Friday. Clark finished with 41 points, 8 assists and 6 rebounds.

Iowa advanced to face LSU in the national championship game on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC), but the biggest game of the season has likely already been played.

How Caitlin Clark led Iowa over South Carolina

The game started the way Iowa was hoping, with Clark immediately finding net and Aliyah Boston getting into early foul trouble. The expected top pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft got two fouls in the first quarter and didn't appear at all in the second quarter.

In her place, All-SEC guard Zia Cooke led the way for the Gamecocks, scoring 18 of their 37 first-half points. South Carolina still suffered on defense, though, and Clark feasted, leading to a 38-37 Hawkeyes lead at the half.

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark (22) attempts a three-point basket against South Carolina Gamecocks guard Zia Cooke (1) in the second half in semifinals of the women's Final Four of the 2023 NCAA Tournament at American Airlines Center.
Caitlin Clark just kept coming at South Carolina. (Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports)

Cooke finished with 24 points and 8 boards.

Boston returned in the third quarter and played normal minutes from there, but Iowa kept building on its lead. It led by as much as 9 at one point, though you can only keep South Carolina down for so long. The Gamecocks' rebounding machine was still in full force and extended several possessions, stretching the Iowa defense to its breaking point.

South Carolina finished the game having outrebounded Iowa 49-25 and having rebounded 55% of its misses. It attempted 20 more shots than the Hawkeyes, and still lost. Because Clark was on another plane, and because Iowa's McKenna Warnock got the most important rebound of the game on a Clark miss in the closing seconds.

"I understand South Carolina got 25 O boards, but there was one that mattered the most, and that was McKenna Warnock's, and that sealed the deal for us, and we were able to make free throws," Clark said. "I might score the most points, but at the end of the day, we aren't anywhere without my teammates. ... Everybody did their role. That's what our team is about. Knowing your role, doing your role and showing up in that every single day."

"That was a long shot and a long rebound. Those can be really hard just based on how hard that came off the backboard, and that shot ricocheted off the backboard. It was really high, and we just weren't in the position to get it," Boston said.

Clark ended up scoring or assisting on every one of Iowa's 18 fourth-quarter points, all the way up to her free throws to seal the game. Iowa big Monika Czinano finished second on the team with 18 points. All but one of her field goals came on an assist from Clark.

"She was on point. I mean, she was everything that we saw on film," South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley said of Clark. "She was everything, like assists, points, turnovers, all of them. She ran the gamut of who she is as a player, and she threaded the needle."

So far in the NCAA tournament, Clark has scored 161 points and dished out 52 assists. In the last 23 years, over a five-game span, she is the only player to have at least 150 points and 50 assists ... and she's done it six times, per ESPN Stats & Info.

Simply put, the best player in college basketball against the best team in college basketball did not disappoint. It exceeded expectations, with one of the greatest individual performances in NCAA tournament history.