One word describes Gamecocks after beating Iowa: Dynasty.

South Carolina has won two of the past three national championships. Dawn Staley built a dynasty.
Caitlin Clark sizzled early, then fizzled. South Carolina too much for Iowa on the boards.
Kamilla Cardoso helps clinch victory at both ends of the court.

A star unlike any we’ve ever seen ran into South Carolina’s dynastic fist.

Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks absorbed Caitlin Clark’s best punch in the first quarter of Sunday’s national championship game against Iowa, then shrugged it off like it was nothing.

This force Staley built proved yet again that it’s not easily shaken. The Gamecocks bend opponents to their will. That’s what dynasties do. That’s what these Gamecocks are: a dynasty.

That they overpowered the best scorer in the sport’s history shows the full force of what Staley assembled.

South Carolina avenged its only loss in the past two seasons by defeating Iowa, 87-75, for its second national championship in the past three seasons.

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Consider South Carolina’s 109-3 record these past three seasons.

Consider that South Carolina (38-0) became women’s basketball’s first undefeated national champion since the 2016 UConn Huskies.

Consider that all of the starters from South Carolina’s 2022 national championship team have moved on.

In Staley’s program, great players depart to make way for a new batch who are even more special.

Dynasty is an overused word in sports. It applies to the Gamecocks.

“This team is pretty special,” Staley told ESPN.

So is the coach who built this dynasty.

Staley wore a ‘Top 10’ necklace during the postgame celebration. No, coach, you’re No. 1, and your dynasty endures.

Staley now owns three national championships. Only Geno Auriemma, Pat Summitt and Kim Mulkey have more. Those three coaches are Mount Rushmore figures. Staley, 53, is not far removed from that conversation.

Great coaches evaluate and adapt in the aftermath of defeat, and that’s what Staley did after Iowa beat the Gamecocks in last year’s semifinals, by daring USC to hit jumpers. That loss exploited the program’s only weakness – perimeter shooting – so Staley addressed it during the offseason.

She welcomed a pair of newcomers, transfer Te-Hina Paopao and freshman Tessa Johnson. They’re sharpshooters, and they turned a team vulnerability into a strength. Paopao and Johnson combined for six 3-pointers Sunday.

Fending off Iowa (34-5) required a full-roster effort. That included Raven Johnson’s dogged defensive pursuit of Clark. Staley tried a few players guarding Iowa’s superstar, but Johnson had the most success. Johnson shot 1 of 11 from the field, but she secured four steals, and her defense seemed to wear on Clark.

Clark came out blistering hot with 18 first-quarter points. By the second half, she seemed gassed. She admirably carried a heavy mantle all season, but her quest for Iowa’s first national championship fell short. Although Clark finished with 30 points, she was out of sorts after her opening-quarter barrage.

South Carolina personified Summitt’s old adage: Offense sells tickets, defense wins games and rebounding wins championships.

At times Sunday, South Carolina’s best offense was missing a shot so that 6-foot-7 center Kamilla Cardoso could assert her dominance on the glass, grab the rebound, and score the putback.

The Hawkeyes could counter South Carolina’s shooters. They had no one to handle Cardoso’s muscle.

South Carolina enjoyed a plus-22 rebounding advantage.

Even after South Carolina opened a double-digit second-half lead, Iowa, like all great teams do, had one more run left in it. The Hawkeyes cut South Carolina’s lead to five points with four minutes remaining.

Would Clark muster one last flurry of 3-pointers to steal this victory?


Cardoso reasserted her will to put the game away. She stuffed Addison O’Grady at one end of the court, then overpowered O’Grady for an offensive rebound at the other end before scoring the putback.

Clark’s ensuing 3-point attempt missed. She had nothing left in her tank. Clark’s Hawkeyes became the latest team to run out of gas going up against this deep, dominant, indefatigable Gamecocks.

‘They weren’t going to be denied,’ Staley said during a televised interview after the game.

Clark invigorated women’s basketball, and her excellence exposed the game to new eyeballs and a bigger audience. She’s brilliant, truly, but the Hawkeyes exited the same way every South Carolina opponent did that came before them: Vanquished at the hands of an unmovable superpower.

The Gamecocks cemented perfection while leaving no doubt about what Staley has built.

A dynasty.

Blake Toppmeyer is the USA TODAY Network’s SEC Columnist. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer.

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