Aliyah Boston and South Carolina vs. Caitlin Clark and Iowa was expected to produce all kinds of ratings and drama, and I would say the people got their money’s worth and more for a game that will likely be talked about years from now.
Top-ranked South Carolina (36-1) and it undefeated season ended Friday night in Dallas as the two-seed Iowa Hawkeyes (31-6) defeated the Cocks in the Final Four by the score of 77-73 to advance to the National Championship in the Women’s NCAA Tournament.
Almost immediate foul trouble for Aliyah Boston dampened the matchup between Naismith Player of the Year recipients a bit, but that did not stop Clark from holding up her side of the bargain.
A question on the minds of many all week was how South Carolina’s defense was going to affect Caitlin Clark and her ability to score and dish out the basketball, and the answer was, frankly, not much.
Clark scored or assisted on a whopping 75% of Iowa’s 77 points as a team on top of contributing 41 points (a Final Four record), eight assists and six rebounds. To kick off the contest, it was evident South Carolina’s gameplan was to “smother” her, but that did not last long as she ended up finding the open teammate for a quick and easy bucket on multiple occasions early.
Once the Gamecocks decided to put only one player on her, Clark’s scoring numbers shot up, but not exactly from three-point land, where she converted on 5 of 17 attempts.
The story from long range for South Carolina was a similar one, which was one factor – in addition to a lack of opportunities from the free throw line – behind the Gamecocks getting into sizable holes early and failing to pull away from the Hawkeyes when they were (rarely) leading.
The Gamecocks only made four three-pointers in 20 opportunities, but they did thrive in the paint with Kamilla Cardoso leading the charge in that department, finishing with 14 points and 14 boards, including 9 coming on the offensive end.
Having a hard time finding many answers early offensively, Zia Cooke was putting on a one-woman show for the Gamecocks in the first quarter, scoring nine of her team-leading 24 points in that time frame despite slowing down a bit in the second half.
The one thing that did keep USC in this one was its offensive boards, finishing with 26, which led to countless second-chance opportunities.
The bench had a day, too, with (besides Cardoso) Raven Johnson and Laeticia Amihere playing particularly well, dropping 13 and 8 points, respectively.
Johnson, individually, led the team from long range, hitting 3-of-6 from deep despite shooting 21% from beyond the arc on the season.
At the end of the day, Caitlin Clark and the rest of the Iowa squad were too much for South Carolina as the Hawkeyes end what was a historic season and winning streak for the Cocks.
Iowa will go on to play LSU in the National Championship on Sunday while South Carolina will have to look ahead to next year, which will likely feature a roster without the likes of Aliyah Boston and Brea Beal.