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South Carolina finishes perfect season with NCAA championship, beating Clark and Iowa 87-75 – Chicago Tribune

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By DOUG FEINBERG (AP Basketball Writer)

CLEVELAND (AP) — Dawn Staley and South Carolina completed their perfect season, ending Caitlin Clark’s historic college career with an 87-75 win over Iowa in the NCAA championship game Sunday.

With Staley directing a relentless attack from the sideline, the Gamecocks (38-0) 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.

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 c areer 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.

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.

Led by the 6-foot-7 Cardoso and Ashlyn Watkins, South Carolina enjoyed a 51-29 rebounding advantage. It also finished with 30 second-chance points.

The Gamecocks also showed off their impressive depth. Johnson helped the team to a 37-0 difference in points by reserves.

South Carolina trailed 46-44 late in the second quarter before going on an 11-0 run spanning halftime to open a 55-46 advantage early in the third quarter. Clark finally ended the run with a layup.

The Hawkeyes closed to 59-55 and had a chance to get even closer, but Hannah Stuelke missed a wide-open layup on a brilliant pass from Clark.

South Carolina responded with the next eight points, including two 3-pointers. The Gamecocks, who were 4 for 20 from behind the 3-point line during last season’s Final Four loss to Iowa, went 8 for 19 from deep against the Hawkeyes this time around.

The Gamecocks were up 68-59 after the third. They led 76-64 early in the fourth before back-to-back 3s by Clark and Gabbie Marshall got Iowa within six.

Iowa was down 80-75 after a three-point play by Sydney Affolter with 4:12 left. That would be the last point the Hawkeyes would score as South Carolina got the last seven of the game.

Clark checked out with 20 seconds left when Iowa coach Lisa Bluder subbed in fellow senior Molly Davis, who hadn’t played since she got hurt in the regular-season finale against Ohio State.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-womens-bracket/ and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness



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