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South Carolina caps perfect season with championship win over Iowa

Iowa fell short in star Caitlin Clark’s final college game and her college career ends without a title.
/ Source: NBC News

The South Carolina Gamecocks took home the NCAA trophy, capping off a perfect season with a 38-0 record, making them only the 10th Division I women’s basketball team to finish the season undefeated.

The win also marks the end of Caitlin Clark’s decorated college basketball career, which stopped short of the ultimate title.

South Carolina defeated Iowa, 87-75, at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland.

Clark led the Iowa Hawkeyes, and the game, as the top scorer with 30 points. For the Gamecocks, Tessa Johnson led the way with 19 points off the bench.

After her Gamecocks came out victorious, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley was crying so hard she could barely get the words out to express her excitement for her undefeated team.

Staley said she is “so incredibly happy for our players” and that “it doesn’t always end the way you want it to end,” referring to last year’s tournament, when Iowa knocked out South Carolina in the Final Four.

“We hope we can erase whatever pain they had last year,” Staley said of the win.

She called the win “awesome” and “unbelievable” and said she’s “super proud” of her team’s work and of the fans.

“You have to let young people be who they are. You have to guide them and navigate them through this world,” Staley said. “When young people lock in and have a belief and trust … this is what can happen.”

“They etched their names in the history books,” Staley said of her team. “This is the unlikeliest group to do it.”

Te-Hina Paopao, one of the standouts in South Carolina’s championship game victory, spoke with ESPN after the end of the game, highlighting the Gamecocks’ impressive undefeated run in the face of an entirely new set of starters and nonextraordinary expectations heading into the season.

“We’ve come a long way, this is a long journey,” Paopao told ESPN. “I’m just so proud of this team.”

Paopao finished with 14 points, the third-leading scorer for the Gamecocks, and she hit the final two free throws to truly put the game away with just more than a minute left.

South Carolina has won the championship twice before, in 2017 and in 2022.

Iowa and Caitlin Clark fell short of its first NCAA championship Sunday. The Hawkeyes made it to the final game last year but lost to LSU, 102-85.

South Carolina is the first women’s Division I basketball team to have a perfect season since 2016. South Carolina had a record of 37-0 this season going into the NCAA championship game. With its win, the Gamecocks have the 10th perfect season in the 41-year history of the women’s Division I basketball tournament.

The last team to have a perfect season including postseason games was the UConn Huskies in 2016.

There have been nine perfect seasons in Division I of women’s basketball, but only four universities — Baylor, UConn, Tennessee and Texas, according to the NCAA. UConn has had six, and the others had one each.

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