March 31, 2023 

Key takeaways from Iowa’s upset win over South Carolina

Caitlin Clark meets the moment and makes history

DALLAS — On the biggest stage yet, Caitlin Clark of Iowa played like the supernova she’s been throughout her collegiate career. With each made three, the sellout crowd of 19,288 watching Iowa attempt to defeat previously unbeaten South Carolina grew louder — neutrals incredulous at the display, Hawkeyes fans roaring. The Gamecock faithful, usually overwhelming in their own sound, instead cheered tentatively.

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By the end, Iowa’s yellow-and-black faithful couldn’t even sit down. Instead, they’ll march on to the national title game against LSU after Iowa defeated South Carolina, 77-73.

Here’s what we learned from the second national semifinal Friday night, a game no one who watched it will ever forget:

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Caitlin Clark can score against anybody

The challenge for Caitlin Clark, on the heels of her 41-point, triple-double explosion, was to perform an encore against perhaps the best defensive team ever assembled. Early on, Clark made it clear that even Dawn Staley’s crew wasn’t going to slow her down much. Clark scored the first points of the game for either team, had 11 points by the end of the first quarter, and continued her onslaught all night, finishing with, that’s right: 41 again.

But Zia Cooke matched Clark shot-for-shot throughout the first half, keeping South Carolina close despite receiving just right minutes from Aliyah Boston, who sat with zero points and two fouls for most of the second quarter.

So despite Clark’s heroics, and South Carolina missing its first nine three-point attempts, a 23-12 edge on the boards helped keep the Gamecocks within 38-37 at halftime, Gabby Marshall’s missed three at the buzzer leading Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder to clap her hands in frustration.

O’Really? O’Grady!

Early in the third quarter, Monika Czinano went to the bench with three fouls and Iowa leading just 40-37. Addison O’Grady, who averaged five minutes per game this season, entered to contend with a rested Aliyah Boston. Then, to press her advantage further, Staley substituted Kamila Cardoso into the game. But O’Grady held her own, scoring a pair of buckets and allowing Iowa to actually extend its lead during her crucial third-quarter minutes.

Meanwhile, the perimeter shots simply weren’t falling for South Carolina, with the Gamecocks missing their first five long-distance attempts in the third quarter as well before Raven Johnson hit a three to cut Iowa’s lead to 57-55. A Czinano finish at short range extended the Hawkeyes’ lead to 59-55 entering the fourth.

Aliyah Boston rises for a shot on an offensive rebound during South Carolina's 2023 Final Four game against Iowa on Friday, Mar. 31, 2023. (Howard Megdal photo)
Aliyah Boston rises for a shot on an offensive rebound during South Carolina’s 2023 Final Four game against Iowa on Friday, Mar. 31, 2023. (Howard Megdal photo)

Raven Johnson delivers

Simply put, Iowa would have won this game easily if not for the heroics of Raven Johnson, who scored in double figures for just the third time all season. She saves it for the important ones, though: the first two came against UConn and LSU, and she managed to bolster the South Carolina attack on a night when Boston never found her offensive rhythm. Her two fourth-quarter threes allowed the Gamecocks to stay within striking distance into the final minutes.

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And Iowa never did figure out how to limit South Carolina on the boards, putting the Hawkeyes in a class with every other Gamecocks opponent this season.

Until the very end.

McKenna Warnock grabbed an absolutely massive offensive rebound with 18 seconds to go. A few moments later, Clark sank two free throws to give Iowa a two-possession lead. A few seconds later, she did it again, calmly, meeting the moment.

And after South Carolina missed a three, then a putback, Iowa grabbed the ball, the win secured, and Clark threw the ball into the air, ran to the Iowa fans and signaled to her ear. Do you hear that?

The answer, for the fans, for the world, is yes. Everyone hears Caitlin Clark.

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.

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