Gamecock Women’s Dreams Turn into Final Four Nightmare

Dick Cox

April 10, 2023 at 2:12 pm.

South Carolina’s women’s basketball team’s dreams of going undefeated and repeating as National Champions came to an abrupt end as the Iowa Hawkeyes stunned the Gamecocks, 77-73. in the national semi-finals in Dallas, TX.

The Gamecocks came into the game ranked No. 1 nationally at 36-0 and on a 42-game winning streak. They were 11.5-point favorites against the 30-6 Lady Hawkeyes, but things did not go as they expected.

Iowa came into the game with a great game plan on both offense and defense and were able to execute their plan to perfection. They were able to keep Carolina off balance and the Gamecocks could never get into a flow on offense. Iowa played a triangle-and-two defense on South Carolina’s two best players, Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke. Boston, last year’s National Player of the Year, picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter and had to sit out most of the first half. Throughout the game, Boston was double and triple teamed, held, pushed and shoved by the defense, but the officials let it go. The game inside the paint was more physical than WrestleMania 39!

The Gamecocks never seemed to make adjustments during the game. The free throw line area was open for unguarded shots, but South Carolina never took advantage of that opportunity. Instead, they tried to force the ball inside when it was not open, and they finished the game with 15 turnovers.

After the game, South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley was very upset about some of the comments that were made by the national media leading up to the game.

“We’re not bar fighters,” she said. “We’re not thugs. We’re not monkeys. We’re not street fighters. I do think that sometimes was brought into the game, and it hurts.”

Ahead of the Final Four matchup with Iowa, coach Lisa Bluder said someone described rebounding against South Carolina as “going to a bar fight.” She wasn’t the first coach to make comments about the Gamecocks’ style of play. UConn coach Geno Auriemma criticized South Carolina’s physicality after the Huskies lost to them in February.

The story of the game was this year’s Naismith National Player of the Year, Catlin Clark, the junior point guard for Iowa. Clark came into the game on a roll after having a triple double, and scoring 41 points versus Louisville in their Elite 8 win. She orchestrated one of the greatest individual performances in Final Four history by not only scoring 41 points, but also dishing out eight assists and grabbing six rebounds.

Clark is a very emotional player who at times lets her emotions get the best of her when she taunts and disrespects her opponents and makes hand gestures at them. Her style of play had been compared to Stephen Curry and “Pistol” Pete Maravich with her offensive scoring skills and passing skills.

The contest was tight throughout with Iowa jumping out to a quick 22-13 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Gamcocks, behind the efforts of Cooke, were able to cut the lead to 38-37 at the intermission. The Hawkeyes took a 59-55 lead into the fourth quarter. With 7:43 remaining in the game Carolina took a 62-61 lead and the Gamecocks looked like they might be getting ready to take control of the game. But on the next possession Clark nailed a long three-point shot to give lowa the lead again.

The game stayed a one possession contest until the final 12.3 seconds. That’s when South Carolina, trailing by two points, was able to force Clark into taking a long three-point shot with the shot clock running down. She missed the shot, but her teammates were able to get the offensive rebound and the gamecocks had to foul to try to get the ball back. Clark made all six free throws in the closing seconds and her team was able to hold on for the shocking upset win. Iowa finished the game a perfect 14-14 from the free throw line.

Clark and Monika Czina were the only players for Iowa to score in double figures with 41 points and 18 points respectively. South Carolina was led Cooke with 24 points and eight rebounds, Kamilla Cardoso with 14 points and 14 rebounds, Raven Johnson 13 points and Boston with eight points and 10 rebounds.

The Gamecocks attempted 20 more shots than Iowa, won the rebounding battle 49-25, won the offensive rebounds 26-5, and scored 24 second chance points, but still lost.

Carolina’s women had a chance to go down in history as one of the most dominant teams in women’s basketball history. It will be interesting to see how the loss affects their legacy. Their No. 1 ranked freshman class from four years ago, called “The Freshies,” has been the face of college women’s basketball during that time. The team left its final game at Colonial Life Arena with a remarkable 60-1 record at home and finished their South Carolina careers with an all-time record of 129-9. In four years, they never lost more than five games in a season and only lost more than two during the 2020-21 season.

The team set many program records – the longest winning streak, the longest home winning streak, the most wins in a season, the most SEC awards in a season. South Carolina also beat UConn on the road in Hartford for the first time ever. They reached a third consecutive Final Four, which likely would have been a fourth if the NCAA Tournament had been played in 2020.

“I’m going to remember a fun year. I think we had so many great experiences, just winning — how many games was that? 36 games. Like I feel like that’s unbelievable,” Gamecocks star Aliyah Boston said.

“Coach [Dawn Staley] told us in the locker room that this is rare. Teams can’t say they did that even though this didn’t end the way we wanted it to. Those 36 games prior to this were really good.”

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