McKenna Warnock pulled down what was essentially the game-winning offensive rebound and Caitlin Clark iced a 77-73 national semifinal win for the No. 2 seed Iowa Hawkeyes with a 4-of-4 effort at the free throw line down the stretch Friday night at American Airlines Center in Dallas.
Clark finished with a NCAAW semifinal-record 41 points to go along with eight assists and six rebounds as the Hawkeyes knocked off the undefeated, national championship-defending No. 1 overall seed South Carolina Gamecocks, a team some thought was unbeatable.
Clark recorded the first-ever NCAAW Tournament 30-point triple-double in her previous outing (hers was a 40-point triple-double).
Warnock’s offensive rebound came after Aliyah Boston forced a jump ball and Iowa maintained possession up 73-71. Clark then went for a deep, step-back dagger three that went off the backboard and out at 21 seconds remaining before Warnock hauled it in. South Carolina had to foul twice before sending Clark to the line, where she went 2-of-2 with 14 seconds remaining.
Raven Johnson then rebounded a Zia Cooke miss from the perimeter and put in a quick layup that maintained hope for the Gamecocks, cutting their deficit to 75-73 with nine ticks left.
After two more Clark free throws, South Carolina was less successful on the offensive end. Boston missed a three and Laeticia Amihere lost the rebound out of bounds at 2.9 ticks. Clark was able to run away from a foul and run the rest of the clock down.
Johnson, a 21.2-percent 3-point shooter coming in, was left wide open all night and made threes to cut South Carolina’s deficit to 57-55, 59-58 and 69-68, with the last of those treys coming at 4:25 remaining. But Clark made a key off-hand layup to make it 71-68 at 3:32.
At 1:17, Clark made the same simple blow-by right side drive for a layup that she made to open the game’s scoring, this time to make the score 73-69. It seemed like that might be the game right there; that Clark taking the easiest points possible in a full-circle moment would be the nail in the coffin for the Gamecocks. But Cooke responded with a layup at 57 seconds before the final sequence ensued.
The Gamecocks took the lead briefly at 60-59, but Clark threes would give Iowa advantages of 62-60 and 67-62.
Iowa led 22-13 after one and opened up a fairly comfortable lead again in the third, going up 46-37 on a Kate Martin layup and 48-39 on an Addison O’Grady layup. O’Grady, in the game for Monika Czinano who was in foul trouble, had also made a layup to make it 44-37.
The Gamecocks cut it to two three times over the remainder of the third. Brea Beal scored inside to cut it to 51-49, Boston made two free throws to cut it to 53-51 and Johnson made the three that cut it to 57-55. Iowa led 59-55 entering the fourth.
One minute and 43 seconds into the second, Cooke drove right down the middle of the Iowa defense for a lay-in and drew the second foul on Clark before converting on a 3-point play to cut it to 24-21. The Hawkeyes went back up six at 31-25, but South Carolina’s next run would result in a lead.
Kamilla Cardoso made a layup following a steal and then Amihere converted on a 3-point play while drawing Czinano’s second foul. Another Amihere layup later and the Gamecocks were in front 32-31.
The rest of the second was a thrilling back-and-forth affair. Clark hit a deep three to make it 34-32 Iowa before Bree Hall answered with a three that made it 35-34 South Carolina. Seven seconds later, Hannah Stuelke put the Hawkeyes back on top with a transition layup. Iowa would lead 38-37 at the break.
Clark kept things simple when she could in the first quarter. She scored twice on basic driving layups from the top of the key where she simply beat her defender and took it all the way with her strong hand. She also missed a layup on such a play, but was fouled and made both free throws with 10 seconds remaining before the second.
Iowa went on a 7-0 run to lead 20-11. It featured a Martin three after the Hawkeyes pressured Cardoso into a bad-pass turnover.
Czinano added 18 points to the winning cause. Cooke finished with 24 and eight boards, while Cardoso was good for 14 and 14.