‘Daycare’ Takes Care of Business: South Carolina defeats Iowa to win third national championship

If the 2023-24 rendition of South Carolina women’s basketball was a “daycare,” then those little babies that Dawn Staley coached up this year matured quickly. 

Going into this season, there was much intrigue as to if this year’s rendition of the Gamecocks would live up to previous versions. It may have surpassed those teams. 

Not only did South Carolina earn a victory over Iowa to win the team’s third national championship – all in the Staley era – but the Gamecocks did so and completed a perfect 38-0 season. 

Without further adieu, here are a few takeaways from what was a great game between the Gamecocks and Hawkeyes. 

Some of these media outlets that were in Cleveland and are writing think pieces about the game would do much better by mentioning a few of the players from the winning team. 

One of those winning players is Kamilla Cardoso who concluded her collegiate career with Most Outstanding Player honors for this year’s NCAA tournament.

Cardoso finished Sunday’s game with 17 rebounds and 15 points. She was one of three Gamecocks in the starting five that finished in double digits for points (Te-Hina Paopao tallied 14 and Chloe Kitts scored 11 with 10 rebounds). 

Cardoso is a likely lottery pick in this year’s WNBA Draft so the proper respect ought to be put on her name. 

Johnson’s revenge tour concluded in the best way possible – with a national championship. 

She played 37 minutes and had a tough afternoon from the field. But she drew the assignment of guarding Caitlin Clark and passed said assignment with flying colors. 

Johnson’s performance on defense is a textbook example of why the scoresheet does not tell the whole story. A key element of South Carolina’s victory was Johnson’s ability to keep Clark in check despite the 18-point outburst she began with in the first quarter. 

Defense, 3-point shooting and the bench have all been key ingredients in South Carolina’s season and it proved itself once again. 

The Gamecocks bench outscored the Hawkeyes bench 37-0. Included in that bench performance were 19 points courtesy of Tessa Johnson which led all point-getters for South Carolina. 

Staley’s assembling also received stellar 18 minutes from MiLaysia Fulwiley. She contributed nine points (seven in the first quarter) to South Carolina’s total in addition to hauling four rebounds and dishing out four assists – including a well-executed crosscourt pass to Johnson which set her up for one of her 3-pointers. 

There is a sound argument that can be made that this championship may be the most impressive of the three Staley has won during her time with the Gamecocks. 

It certainly has to be her best coaching job because, unlike previous seasons, there was not a key name on South Carolina’s marquee. 

In 2017, A’ja Wilson was the big name on the marquee. In 2022, that honor was Aliyah Boston’s. In 2024, it is not as if there was one player that was head and shoulders the star of the team. Virtually everyone on this year’s roster at one point or another appeared to be the best player sporting the garnet and black. 

Of course, much of the discussion surrounding the game is already about Clark and her legacy. 

She did score 30 points on Sunday afternoon to lead all scorers, but she had 12 between the final three frames of play. 

There is a narrative that says since Clark did not add a national championship to her resume that her legacy is somewhat diminished. This is nothing but lazy nonsense that is part of the tired “legacy” talk that is way too common in men’s basketball circles and has made its way to the women’s end of the spectrum. 

She brought mainstream attention to the sport, set records and became an all-around ambassador for basketball. Clark can hold her head high at what she accomplished throughout her college days and can begin to think about being selected first by the Indiana Fever in this year’s draft. Let us not build her up only to bring her down.

One of the more telling images throughout history was when three flags used to fly atop South Carolina’s state house in Columbia – also where the University of South Carolina is located.

One of those flags used to be a confederate flag. 

On Sunday afternoon when the Gamecocks were successful in defeating Iowa for this year’s national championship, a third flag did fly. That flag was a black Gamecocks flag.