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  • Writer's pictureWyatt Bose

South Carolina beats Iowa, Staley pays tribute to Clark + UConn-Purdue Preview

Dawn Staley’s South Carolina Gamecocks clinched their third NCAA National Championship in seven years on Sunday afternoon, winning two of the last three tournaments. Over the last two seasons, the Gamecocks are 74-1, with their only loss coming against Caitlin Clark and the Hawkeyes in last year’s Final Four.

On Sunday, South Carolina outclassed Iowa both on the glass and off the bench. The Gamecocks grabbed 18 offensive rebounds compared to Iowa’s 7, snatched 51 total rebounds while Iowa managed just 29, and produced 37 bench points while Iowa’s bench remained scoreless. South Carolina’s second-chance opportunities on the offensive glass wore down an already fatigued Iowa team, whose starters played nearly every minute of the game. 

Caitlin Clark, Gabbie Marshall, and Kate Martin played all 40 minutes, and Sydney Affolter played 35 minutes. Iowa’s bench gave them a total of just 18 minutes between two players, Addison O’Grady and Kylie Feuerbach. By contrast, South Carolina’s bench played a combined 75 minutes. Iowa’s starters were visibly fatigued, especially after a Final Four game where their bench played just 7 total minutes.

Nevertheless, South Carolina became the 10th team in Women’s College Basketball history to win the NCAA tournament undefeated. This lack of parity has historically plagued and concealed the Women’s game for a long time, until now.

While powerhouses like South Carolina and UConn have traditionally dominated the game, this season featured a significant shift. The emergence of stars like Paige Bueckers, Caitlin Clark, Juju Watkins, and Angel Reese, along with coaches like Kim Mulkey and Dawn Staley, brought unprecedented attention to the sport. The Women’s Final Four even out-priced the Men’s this year, and these stars deserve credit for it. In fact, if you were to ask the average basketball fan to name players from the both tournaments, they would likely be able to list more women’s players than men’s. That has never been the case in years past. When the product on the floor is as good as it was this year, people will watch. This surge in viewership can largely be attributed to Caitlin Clark, who filled every home and road arena, and even Iowa’s football stadium throughout the season.

After the NCAA Championship game, Dawn Staley paid tribute to Clark:

“I want to personally thank Caitlin Clark for lifting up our sport. She carried a heavy load for our sport, and it just is not going to stop here on a collegiate tour, but when she is the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft, she's going to lift that league up as well. So Caitlin Clark, if you’re out there, you are one of the GOATs of our game. We appreciate you.”

While the game is going to lose stars like Clark, Reese, and Cardoso as they transition to the WNBA, it will continue to nurture new talent and retain others. Watkins, Bueckers, and almost the entire South Carolina roster are returning to college basketball, and the game looks to be headed in the right direction.

Purdue vs. UConn

Tonight, the UConn Huskies look to become back-to-back National Champions for the first time since Florida did it in 2006 and 2007. On the other side, Purdue looks to win its first NCAA Championship in school history, relying heavily on towering 7’4” center, Zach Edey. Purdue will be playing in the title game just one year after losing to No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson in last year’s round of 64.

The Boilermakers have played through Edey all year, and they will do the same on Monday. Edey has averaged 28 points and 15.4 rebounds in five March Madness games this year, with Purdue winning by an average of 19.6 points per game.

Meanwhile, UConn has not lost a game in the past two NCAA tournaments. In fact, UConn has won every game by double digits in that span. In their five games in this year’s tournament, the Huskies have won by an average of 25 points per game, and they get scoring production from all five starters.

While Purdue’s success is contingent upon Edey’s dominance, UConn operates as a cohesive unit that sees all five starters contributing double-digit points. Purdue had just three players in double figures vs NC State and two against Tennessee, with Edey being their main source of offense in both games. In UConn’s Elite Eight and Final Four games, they had five players in double figures in both games, respectively. 

UConn’s Donovan Clingan has the shot-blocking ability to contain Edey at the rim, providing the Huskies an opportunity to neutralize t the Big Ten Player of the Year. UConn’s guards also rebound the ball very well, which contributes to their second-chance efforts on the offensive end.

Ultimately, if UConn can contain Edey, they’ll be back-to-back champs.

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