Once that game ended, the American Airlines Center quickly filled up for what many fans and observers of the game considered the main event. Spectators dressed in black, gold and garnet were here to watch college basketball’s most anticipated matchup in the NCAA Division I Final Four, a suffocating, undefeated South Carolina team against Clark, widely considered the player of the year.
“Tonight showed how much fun women’s basketball can be,” Clark said. “I’m sure a lot of people want it to be seven series. That would be a lot of fun.”
For much of the first half, Iowa dominated South Carolina and got its star, Aaliyah Boston, into early foul trouble. He played just eight minutes and didn’t score in the first half, but Iowa led by just 1 at halftime, largely due to South Carolina’s relentless depth. The lead seemed to quickly evaporate with Boston again in the second half.
Iowa’s zone defense strategy was effective, dropping Clark off the top of the zone and into Boston or any post player who received the ball. Clark’s assist defense and the health of center Monica Sinano forced 15 South Carolina turnovers. On the offensive end, Iowa picked apart South Carolina’s defense with pick-and-roll plays, mostly featuring Clark and Sinano. Gamecox struggled to defend the game, often leaving one of the two wide open. Sinano finished with 18 points.
South Carolina’s guards struggled to take advantage of Iowa’s defenders sagging too deep. Many onlookers yelled at the guards to “shoot the ball,” but often, when they did, they missed. South Carolina coach Dan Staley rotated in different players throughout the game, including Raven Johnson, Bree Hall, Kiera Fletcher and Olivia Thompson. But nothing worked, at least in the long run.
“They’re doing what every other team has done to us this season,” Fletcher said through tears. “So I think we’re definitely beating ourselves up.”