Ratings Record-Breaking NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament Ends With South Carolina Win Over Caitlin Clark’s Iowa

Undefeated Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley thanks Clark for “lifting up our sport” in victory speech

Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Caitlin Clark-led University of Iowa Hawkeyes were no match for South Carolina’s Gamecocks on Sunday, as Dawn Staley led her undefeated team to a 87-75 win. The conclusion to what has proven to be a ratings record busting NCAA women’s basketball tournament was dominated by powerhouse Kamilla Cardoso and her team.

Clark was strong out of the gate and scored 18 points in the first quarter—adding yet another record to her lengthy list in the process. The Hawkeyes were strong throughout the first half, but South Carolina pushed back toward the end of the second quarter and were up by 3 when both teams headed to the locker room for halftime.

When they returned, it was clear South Carolina didn’t plan to lose. The team dominated the second half, rarely allowing the Hawkeyes to come within 10 points of their lead. Staley, who lost her entire starting line-up at the end of last year’s season, broke down into tears after the final buzzer sounded. Staley used part of her championship speech to praise Clark for the ways she has elevated the women’s game.

“I really would just like to say, I have to congratulate Iowa on an incredible season,” Staley began as the crowd cheered. “Awesome, awesome. I want to personally thank Caitlin Clark for lifting up our sport. She carried a heavy load for our sport, and it is just is not gonna stop here on a collegiate tour, but when she is the number one pick in the WNBA draft, she’s gonna lift that league up as well.”

“So, Caitlin Clark, if you’re out there, you are one of the GOATs of our game and we appreciate you,” she concluded.

With today’s win, Staley’s record at South Carolina during the last three seasons is 108-3.

Clark has been in the spotlight since the end of February, when she became the women’s college basketball all-time leading scorer. She continued to rack up records from that point on, soon surpassing the career men’s basketball record of 3,667 points. Her additional records include include becoming Iowa’s all-time leading scorer, scoring the most 30-point games by any man or woman in Division I in the past 25 seasons, becoming the Big Ten and Iowa’s all-time leader in assists, setting the NCAA single-season record for 3-pointers and becoming the first Division I women’s player to score at least 1,000 points in two different seasons.

Clark is expected to be the number one pick when the Indiana Fever make their round one selection at the WNBA draft on April 15. The Las Vegas Aces, who host the Fever at their season opener on July 2, have already moved their game to the city’s larger T Mobile Arena to accommodate a surge in ticket sales.

This year’s draft will also include South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso, LSU’s Angel Reese, Standford’s Cameron Brink, and Tennessee’s Rickea Jackson.

Friday night’s semifinal matchup between the Hawkeyes and the UConn Huskies broke ESPN’s previous ratings records and resulted in resulted in the highest-ever audience for any basketball game the network has aired ever. The game brought in a record 14.2 million viewers on average throughout the game, peaking at 17 million. It was also the most watched college event ever on ESPN+.

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