It went down to the wire, but in the end, the Gamecock women’s basketball team’s 42-game winning streak was snapped after a 77-73 loss Friday to Iowa in the NCAA Women’s Final Four.
Hawkeye star junior guard Caitlin Clark scored 41 points to push her team into the championship game. Meanwhile, South Carolina’s senior forward Aliyah Boston struggled, scoring just 8 points on 2-9 shooting.
“(Clark) was everything — assist, points, turnovers, all of them," Gamecock head coach Dawn Staley said. “She ran the gamut of who she is as a player.”
Clark shot 15-31 from the floor and picked apart the Gamecocks' defense by executing the pick-and-roll with fifth-year center Monika Czinano.
“All the credit goes to my teammates,” Czinano said. “They find me in positions that I am the most effective, and they do it game in and game out, all the time. The confidence that they have in me is quite unreal, truly.”
Czinano finished the game with 18 points. According to Staley, she was the difference maker in the game.
“If we could have probably not allowed Czinano (to) have a little less opportunities, it could have flipped the other way,” Staley said. “She was the one that put them over the top with her contributions, because we had everybody else in check.”
Staley said the team tried showing Iowa different looks defensively, but Iowa was able to execute no matter the look.
The Gamecocks stuck to its game plan offensively, getting the ball inside and chasing down offensive boards.
South Carolina outrebounded Iowa 26-5 on the offensive glass, but it was Iowa’s senior guard McKenna Warnock who came up with the most important offensive rebound of the game.
Up by 2 with 21 seconds left in the game, Clark missed a three that fell into Warnock’s hands. Warnock then got the ball to Clark, who drained two free throws and gave her team a two-possession lead.
“We always want to get those O boards, and I'm glad that I could come up with that one,” Warnock said. “It kind of fell into my lap, and that's kind of what we wanted in those moments anyways. We wanted some of those (to) kind of bounce our way tonight, and I'm glad it did at that moment. And then I'm glad that Caitlin knocked those free throws down.”
Iowa packed the paint and attempted to force South Carolina outside. The Hawkeyes rarely guarded any Gamecock players on the perimeter, instead sending four players down low to fight with South Carolina’s bigs.
The strategy paid off, as the Gamecocks shot 4-20 from three. Redshirt freshman guard Raven Johnson hit three of the four threes for the team, finishing with 13 points.
Senior guard Zia Cooke finished with a team-high 24 points but scored only 6 in the second half. When the final buzzer went off, she was visibly emotional and had to be comforted by her teammates.
Iowa put the pressure on South Carolina early, jumping out to a 9-point lead in the first quarter. That deficit topped the previous tournament's high, which was 6 in the game against Maryland.
This game marks the end of an era for the program, and players from the famous “freshies” class have a decision to make about their future. Boston said her decision has not yet been made, but Staley said she will tell her to pursue a career in the WNBA.
“I would tell her to go,” Staley said. “She’s great. I mean, she's ready to see single coverage. She's ready to make the next step to the league.”
The goal for next year is clear. No matter who is on the roster, the Gamecocks wants to return to the Final Four.
“It was good just being out there, but we didn't come out with the outcome,” Johnson said. “I really wanted to win for the seniors, but I have more years to come, so we're definitely going to be back.”
The Gamecocks will now begin its offseason and focus on building the team up for success next season.