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WNBA Stars Are Born: Caitlin Clark, Kamilla Cardoso Power NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship Game as South Carolina Defeats Iowa

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The University of South Carolina overwhelmed the Iowa Hawkeyes Sunday in a rollicking NCAA Women’s College Basketball Championship game that capped an unprecedented run for women’s sports. The game that ended 87-75 saw University of Iowa megastar Caitlin Clark wrap her collegiate career and the birth of not one but two WNBA stars, as Clark and South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso head off to next week’s WNBA draft.

The Iowa-South Carolina game was a seesaw from the start. Clark added yet another NCAA record to her tally by scoring 18 points in the first quarter. Iowa dominated most of the first half but it ended with South Carolina up by three. After that, South Carolina paced the game, a fitting end to the team’s astonishing perfect season, 38-0. The team made it to the Final Four last year but wound up losing to Iowa, which also added meaning to Sunday’s win. (Some players called it the “revenge tour.”)

“So proud, so proud, so proud,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley told ESPN after the team clinched the championship and after she broke down with emotion.

Later, after accepting the championship trophy, Staley made a point of tipping her hat to Clark for “lifting up our sport.” The former WNBA star also noted that such fame is also a “heavy load” and that she has high hopes for bringing the excitement generated in her college playing days to the pros.

“She’s going to lift that league up as well,” Staley said. “So Caitlin Clark, if you’re out there, you are one of the GOATs.”

Clark, Cardoso and other players on both teams logged strong performances with the season on the line. Clark finished out wtih 30 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists in her last game as a college student. Cardoso delivered 15 points, 17 rebounds and 2 assists in her final game.

Clark, a six-foot guard who is routinely described as a “generational” talent, has had a white-hot media spotlight trained on her since late February, when she became the women’s college basketball all-time leading scorer. And then a few days later, on March 3, she also surpassed the career men’s basketball record that had held since 1970 by Pete Maravich at 3,667 points. As those undeniable stats captured national attention, Clark’s Hawkeyes went on a winning streak that brought them through the playoffs and up through Sunday afternoon championship game held at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse arena.

In February, Clark declared her intention to enter the WNBA draft, which will be held April 15. She is widely expected to be the No. 1 pick, which means she’s likely to join the Indiana Fever franchise as that team won the draft lottery in December.

The NCAA women’s tournament has benefitted this year from a bumper crop of top players who already have big followings and are bound to turn pro as early as April 15 when the WNBA holds its 2024 draft. Clark and superstars including LSU’s Angel Reece and South Carolina’s Kamilla Cardoso who have declared their intention and are expected to be top WNBA selections. The 2024 WNBA draft will be held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, with fans in attendance for the first time since 2016. ESPN will telecast portions live and be telecast live from 7:30-9:30 p.m. ET.

Clark, 22, is a native of West Des Moines, Iowa. She became basketball focused at a young age thanks in part to her father, Brent Clark, a former college basketball and baseball player and youth coach. The father-daughter rapport that the two demonstrate even when the younger Clark is on the court has become a fan-favorite for social media posts. Brent Clark has also generated memes and ESPN cutaways for packing a healthy amount of snacks for his daughter’s big games.

Caitlin Clark’s record of achievement and dream season has helped draw attention to the rising profile of women’s sports in other areas including soccer.

“I dreamed of playing in front of these types of crowds, in these types of environments,” Caitlin Clark told “Good Morning America” in March. “During every national anthem or every pregame, I just try to take a deep breath and look around and soak in the environment, because it seriously never gets old.”

(Pictured: Caitlin Clark, Kamilla Cardoso)