Undefeated South Carolina beats Iowa for women's basketball title


April 7 (UPI) -- Physical defense and overwhelming rebounding effort carried South Carolina past Iowa, capping off an undefeated season with a victory in the 2024 Division I NCAA women's basketball tournament finale Sunday in Cleveland.

The Gamecocks (38-0) out-rebounded the Hawkeyes 51-29 and totaled 30 second-chance points in the 87-75 victory at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. They are just the 10th team in women's college basketball history win complete an undefeated season and win a title.

Gamecocks senior center Kamilla Cardoso, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, totaled 15 points and 17 rebounds in the triumph. Freshman guard Tessa Johnson scored 19 points off the Gamecocks bench.

"Kamila Cardoso was not going to let us lose a game in the NCAA tournament," Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said on the ESPN broadcast. "She played through an injury. She played like one of the top picks in the WNBA Draft."

The Gamecocks outscored the Hawkeyes 48-32 in the paint and outshot their foes 47.9% to 39.7% en route to their second championship in three years.

Two-time National Player of the Year Caitlin Clark scored 18 points in the first quarter, the most ever scored in a quarter of a championship game. The Hawkeyes, who started the game on a 10-0 run, carried a 27-20 edge into the second quarter.

Gamecocks sophomore guard Raven Johnson locked in defensively on Clark, forcing her to go 5 of 20 from the field for the rest of the night. Clark, who totaled 30 points, scored just three points in the second quarter. The Gamecocks held a 29-19 scoring edge in the frame to carry a 49-46 lead into halftime.

The Gamecocks started the third quarter with a 6-0 run. The Hawkeyes went on to cut the deficit to 57-55 with 4:44 remaining in the quarter, but the Gamecocks answered with an 8-0 run and never looked back. They increased their lead to 14 with 7:44 remaining and ended the game with a 7-0 run to close out the Hawkeyes and complete their unblemished campaign.

Clark made 10 of 28 shots, including 5 of 13 3-pointers, in the loss. Senior guard Kate Martin chipped in 16 points for the Hawkeyes.

"The emotions will probably hit me over the next couple days," Clark said. "I don't have much time to sit around and sulk and be upset.

"I'm sad we lost this game, but I'm also so proud of myself, so proud of my teammates and so proud of this program. There is a lot to be proud of."

Sophomore forward Chloe Kitts totaled 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Gamecocks. Senior guard Te-Hina Paopao logged 14 points in the victory.