Iowa VS South Carolina

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With undefeated South Carolina reeling on the back foot, coach Dawn Staley looked to her bench — specifically Tessa Johnson — to try to correct an 11-point deficit at Iowa.

It was a relief for Gamecox that her freshman guard surpassed her season average of six points. With a team-high 19 points and three triples, Johnson led South Carolina to a slim halftime lead and a third-quarter lead, helping the Gamecocks capture their second national title in three years, 87-75, and cap off a perfect season.

The players were rolling from the opening tip, as Kate Martin and Sydney Affolter gave Iowa a quick 7-0 lead, while Caitlin Clark scored 13 in a row. The newly crowned AP Player of the Year drained a pair of 3s, was fouled on two more attempts and converted at the rim to give the Hawkins a 20-9 lead at halftime. Clark finished with 30 points (10 of 28 shooting), eight rebounds and five assists in her final collegiate game.

Iowa centers Hannah Stulke and Addison O’Grady held star Gamcock Cardoso to just 2 of 6 shots in the first quarter, but the Brazilian behemoth teamed up with Johnson to find the opener. Johnson — who led the Gamecocks’ 36-0 bench scoring margin — took over for South Carolina and its top-ranked defense. The freshman guard turned each into a transition basket and grabbed a pair of steals before Cardoso finished with a layup to tie the game at 27.

That top-class defense was also a contrast to Clarke’s early mastery, and a brilliant defensive game by Raven Johnson kept Clarke out and gave the Gamecocks an easy two points before the break.

South Carolina echoed this late-half momentum out of the locker room. Chloe Kitts made sure she stayed on the floor with two straight baskets outside of the layup, and Te-Hina Paopao nailed a pull-up jumper to give the Gamecocks a 55-46 lead and force Iowa coach Lisa Bluder to fire a fast break.

Cardoso led South Carolina’s rebounding effort, which started wearing down against the Hawkeyes, and grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds. The Gamecocks had a 24-11 rebounding advantage in the second half, including six offensive rebounds, and a plus-6 advantage in the second half helped South Carolina maintain its lead.

Paopao nailed a 3 to start the fourth quarter, one of three long-range bombs Sunday, and South Carolina’s typically balanced scoring attack — seven Gamecocks made at least three field goals — proved too much for the Hawkeyes’ late rally.

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