May 26, 2024

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WOMEN'S FINAL FOUR: Iowa's Kaitlyn Clark advances to the women's national title game to face South Carolina

WOMEN'S FINAL FOUR: Iowa's Kaitlyn Clark advances to the women's national title game to face South Carolina

Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports/Reuters

Iowa Hawkeyes goalie Kaitlin Clark dribbles the puck past Connecticut Huskies goalie Nika Muehl.



CNN

It will be Kaitlyn Clark's final collegiate match with a national championship on the line.

No. 1 Iowa State advanced to the NCAA Women's National Tournament for the second straight year, defeating No. 3 UConn 71-69. in the Final Four at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio, on Friday. They will face South Carolina — the overall No. 1 seed and undefeated this season — in the title game on Sunday.

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

Among the records she set, Clark has the most career points in women's and men's Division I history. Considered 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 the 23rd NCAA Final Four appearance — and 15th in the last 16 NCAA Tournaments — for the 11-time national champion Huskies, all under coach Geno Auriemma.

But this was perhaps the most unlikely Final Four trip ever, as UConn's roster, which has been ravaged by injuries this season, was depleted. The Huskies – led by star Paige Bueckers – got hot during the NCAA Tournament, reaching the Final Four by edging No. 1 USC.

Despite being the No. 1 overall seed, the only undefeated women's college basketball team, and a roster of depth, No. 1 South Carolina seemed to have flown under the radar throughout the NCAA Tournament.

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Maybe that will change on Sunday.

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

South Carolina, now 37-0, will face Kaitlyn Clark's No. 1 Iowa Hockey League in the title game on Sunday.

South Carolina's Camila Cardoso, who announced Monday that she will enter the WNBA draft, finished with 22 points, going 10 of 12 from the field, to grab 11 rebounds. The 6-foot-7 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 goals in the first half.

However, there was cause for concern, with just over two minutes remaining in the first half. Cardoso limped after trying to drive to the basket and stumbled to the locker room with 1:39 remaining in the quarter. South Carolina led 32-31 at halftime.

But Cardoso would come back early in the second half, and South Carolina came out strong, 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 coach Don Staley kept Cardoso on the bench for the fourth quarter.

“I mean, you play to your strengths,” Staley told reporters. “Camila is our strength. She's 6'7”. She is graceful. She can control the paint. “She plays with the desire to win.”

“Greatness is a process,” Staley later said of Cardoso. I believe it is still in the early stages of its greatness. I think you'll see her play better when you're with professional players.

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

Gregory Shamos/Getty Images

South Carolina's Camila Cardoso shoots the ball past the North Carolina State Wolfpack in the first half.

This has been an NCAA Tournament filled with star power, with Iowa's Clark, UConn's Bueckers, LSU's Angel Reyes, and USC's JuJu Watkins, to name a few. Meanwhile, South Carolina continues to win.

South Carolina, now 108-3 over the past 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 straight Final Four appearance and a chance for them to win their third national title in seven years.

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

Isaiah James led NC State with 20 points.