DALLAS -- All season, it felt as if South Carolina was headed for an impending coronation. The Gamecocks dominated opponents with such ease, it seemed hard to envision how they would lose.

Not a team with this much size, depth, physicality and rebounding prowess. Not a team with Aliyah Boston, the projected No. 1 player in the upcoming WNBA draft if she declares. Not a team with Dawn Staley on the sideline, the coach who has made South Carolina the new standard-bearer.

Even headed into its Final Four matchup against Iowa and player of the year Caitlin Clark on Friday night, it felt so simple to say South Carolina would physically wear down the high-flying Hawkeyes and the most electrifying player in college basketball.

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Then the game started, and the most infallible team in the country looked ... fallible. Clark pushed the pace, driving into the lane untouched, making beautiful touch passes inside that her teammates easily dropped in the basket.

She was the unquestioned star on the court, and South Carolina seemed helpless to keep up. Even as the Gamecocks made runs to challenge Iowa, the Hawkeyes never seemed to lose their grip on the game. Boston played most of it in foul trouble, and Clark took center stage, dazzling with every move, her smooth shot moving the Hawkeyes closer and closer to the improbable.

When it was over, Iowa had defeated South Carolina 77-73, pulling off the biggest upset in the Final Four since 2017, when No. 1 UConn lost in overtime in the national semifinals to Mississippi State, snapping a 111-game winning streak. The team that beat Mississippi State to win the first national title in program history?

There will be no repeating as national champions for the Gamecocks, no perfect season. Staley said Thursday that "the juice was in winning the national championship," yet her team could not muster enough down the stretch to pull off the comeback win.

"I don't think we felt pressure to win the game, we just didn't perform," Staley said. "And that hasn't been us all season long." She added: "I'm pretty numb right now. I just want to make sure my players are OK. Some of them just played their last game in a Gamecock uniform. I want to make sure I'm there for them. I want to make sure their hearts aren't hurting too bad."  


Clark finished with 41 points for the second straight NCAA tournament game, throwing her team on her back again, growing her legend all the same. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, she is the first player in NCAA tournament history with back-to-back 40-point games.

Now she gets a shot at a national championship the Gamecocks thought would be theirs. The Hawkeyes will play LSU for the championship on Sunday afternoon.

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