Women’s Final Four: Iowa, Caitlin Clark advance to women’s national title game to face South Carolina

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Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark dribbles the ball past Connecticut Huskies guard Nika Muhl.

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CNN
 — 

Caitlin Clark’s final collegiate game will be with a national championship on the line.

No. 1 Iowa has advanced to the women’s NCAA tournament national championship game for the second consecutive year, beating No. 3 UConn 71-69 in the Final Four at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio, on Friday. They will face South Carolina – the top overall No. 1 seed and undefeated this season – in Sunday’s title game.

A year ago, Clark and the Hawkeyes came up short in the national title game, losing to Angel Reese and LSU 102-85. This time, Clark – in a record-breaking season – could end her college career as a champion and give Iowa its first national title in women’s or men’s basketball.

Among the records she has set, Clark has the most career points in Division I history for women and men. Seen as a generational talent, the 22-year-old is projected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft on April 15.

It was an NCAA-record 23rd Final Four appearance – and 15th in the last 16 NCAA tournaments – for the 11-time national champion Huskies, all under head coach Geno Auriemma.

But it might have been the most unlikely Final Four trip of them all, as UConn, decimated by injuries this season, had a depleted roster. The Huskies – led by star Paige Bueckers – got hot during the NCAA tournament, reaching the Final Four by outdueling No. 1 USC.

Despite being the top overall seed, the lone women’s college basketball team undefeated, and a roster with depth, No. 1 South Carolina has seemingly flown under the radar throughout the NCAA tournament.

Perhaps that will change Sunday.

The Gamecocks advanced to the national championship game after defeating No. 3 NC State 78-59 at the Final Four at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio.

South Carolina, now 37-0, will face the No. 1 Iowa Hawkeyes, led by Caitlin Clark in Sunday’s title game.

South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso, who on Monday announced she would enter the WNBA draft, finished with 22 points, going 10-of-12 from the field, to go with 11 rebounds. The 6-foot-7-inch center started the game 6-for-6 from the field and scored the team’s first 10 points of the second quarter. She led all scorers with 16 in the first half.

There was cause of concern, however, with just over 2 minutes to go before halftime. Cardoso came up limping after attempting to drive to the basket and hobbled to the locker room with 1:39 left in the quarter. South Carolina took a 32-31 lead into the break.

But Cardoso would return for the start of the second half, and South Carolina came out firing, outscoring the Wolfpack 29-6 in the third quarter and ending the period on a 17-1 run.

By then, the game was out of reach at 61-37, and head coach Dawn Staley kept Cardoso on the bench for the fourth quarter.

“I mean, you play to your strengths,” Staley told reporters. “Kamilla is a strength of ours. She’s 6’7”. She’s agile. She can command the paint. She plays with a desire to win.”

Staley later said of Cardoso: “Greatness is a process. And she’s still very much in, I think, in the beginning stages of her greatness. I think you’ll see her play a lot better when she’s with pro players.”

Ashlyn Watkins pulled in 20 rebounds to go with eight points, while Raven Johnson had 13 points and five assists. Te-Hina Paopao added 10 points and six assists.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso shoots the ball against the NC State Wolfpack in the first half.

This has been an NCAA tournament full of star power, with Iowa’s Clark, UConn’s Bueckers, LSU’s Angel Reese and USC’s JuJu Watkins, just to name a few. Meanwhile, South Carolina just keeps winning.

South Carolina, now 108-3 in the last three seasons, is back in the national championship game for the first time since 2022, when it won the national title for the second time in program history. This is the Gamecocks’ fourth consecutive Final Four appearance and a chance for them to win their third national title in seven years.

For NC State, a dream season ends at 31-7. This was the Wolfpack’s second trip to the Final Four and the first since 1998.

Aziaha James led NC State with 20 points.

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