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South Carolina Women’s Basketball: Road to a Championship

The Gamecocks' "revenge tour" came to a perfect end last Sunday.


What defines a champion? Is it the uncanny ability to do the impossible? Is it the relentless chase for perfection, or belief in yourself against all odds? Champions aren’t just defined by their victories and accolades – beyond their talents lies a bigger picture. Character plays an integral part in being labeled a champion, which we see in the journey of South Carolina women’s basketball.


On Sunday, April 7, South Carolina clinched its third national championship title in a win over Iowa, completing a perfect season. Coach Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks were the first undefeated NCAA women’s basketball champion since the 2016 UConn Huskies. To call South Carolina's season great would be an understatement – its 38-0 record was nothing short of extraordinary.


SC's Raven Johnson guards Iowa star Caitlin Clark, courtesy of Sports Illustrated.
SC's Raven Johnson guards Iowa star Caitlin Clark, courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

This year was more than just a road to victory. It was a “revenge tour,” according to sophomore guard Raven Johnson. Last year, the Gamecocks fell short in their Final Four matchup against the Iowa Hawkeyes. In that game, Caitlyn Clark “waved off” Johnson, who she was supposed to be guarding – indicating that she didn’t see Johnson as a threat from the three-point line. This year, Johnson was determined to prove Clark wrong. After helping the Gamecocks win the championship, she said in a postgame interview that her performance against Iowa this time around was an apology to her teammates, coaches, and herself. 


With no returning starters from last year’s lineup, Staley put together one of the best women’s teams college basketball has ever seen. The “revenge tour” motto must’ve rubbed off on everyone – they have the numbers to show for it. From the start of the tournament to the national championship, South Carolina’s performances were remarkable. In the first round, SC defeated Presbyterian 91-39. Sophomore forward Chloe Kitts put up 21 points and 13 rebounds, leading the team in both respects. The next game, freshman phenom MiLaysia Fulwiley scored 20 points, including a crucial three-pointer that helped South Carolina win over No. 8 seed UNC. 


SC continued its dominant streak in its Sweet 16 matchup against the Indiana Hoosiers. Johnson stepped in to save her team with a three-pointer after its 22-point lead was nearly lost. Center Kamilla Cardoso also played a crucial part in the Gamecocks’ close win, stopping Mackenzie Holmes from leading an Indiana comeback in the last few minutes of the game.


“Proud because we beat the odds,” Coach Staley said after her team’s 70-58 Elite 8 victory over No. 3 seed Oregon State. Despite the doubt surrounding chances of making it back to the Final Four, the Gamecocks triumphed and secured their spot once more. And this time, they went even further, punching their ticket to the national championship!


The stage was set for another thrilling matchup between South Carolina and Iowa. Iowa got out to an early 10-point lead, holding off SC until midway through the second quarter. The teams then exchanged leads until Johnson scored a layup, putting the Gamecocks up 49-46 at the half. She was crucial to the Gamecocks’ victory with four steals and two blocks, some of which came against Iowa star Clark.


Off the bench, SC brought some serious heat – particularly from freshman Tessa Johnson, who scored 19 points. Tournament MVP Cardoso continued to shine in her final collegiate game, delivering 15 points and 17 rebounds. Another notable achievement came from Kitts, who collected a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. These standout performances ultimately sealed the deal for South Carolina.


At last, the Gamecocks were crowned national champions! Fueled by dreams of redemption, the ladies of SC displayed resilience in the face of adversity, stayed humble, and received their fairytale ending. That’s what true champions do – they face challenges head-on until they succeed. Staley and the South Carolina women’s basketball team beat the odds and completed a perfect season to become national champions.

 

Edited by Ella Chang

Social media content created by Daryl Batt


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