CLEVELAND — She left the court for the final time, her head held high. She left a court that bears no resemblance to the one she first walked onto at Iowa. She left as a tall tale, standing 6-feet tall, tattooed on the hearts and minds of millions. She left as the most influential and popular player her sport has ever seen, a collegiate collage of Babe Ruth, Bobby Orr, Steph Curry and Salvador Dali, redefining the unimaginable.

She left wanting more.

Caitlin Clark’s celebrated run at Iowa ended Sunday without a national championship, as the Hawkeyes were unable to replicate last year’s upset of unbeaten South Carolina, falling 87-75 at a sold-out Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

Clark, who suffered a double-digit loss in Iowa’s first-ever national title game last year against LSU, finished her final game in black and gold with 30 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

No. 1 (38-0) South Carolina, which suffered its only loss of the past two seasons against Iowa at last year’s Final Four, has claimed two of the past three national championships, earning coach Dawn Staley her third ring with the Gamecocks.

No. 1 Iowa (34-5), which ended a 30-year Final Four drought last season, has never won a national championship.

Iowa believed it would happen, leading 7-0 before Clark took her first shot. Then, Clark channeled Wilt Chamberlain, scoring 13 straight points, as Iowa took an 18-7 lead. South Carolina’s top-ranked defense tried to intimidate the conductor of the nation’s highest-scoring offense — Bree Hall and Raven Johnson kept their fingers inches from Clark’s eyes — but the greatest scorer in Division I history wouldn’t flinch, finishing the first quarter with 18 points, while hitting three of four 3s.

Iowa’s frontline couldn’t say the same, with 6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso (15 points, 17 rebounds) treating the Hawkeyes like children who wandered onto the floor. The Gamecocks scored the first seven points of the second quarter to tie the game, then took their first lead, 36-34, midway through the quarter, as Clark missed four straight shots. Before Clark drilled a 3-pointer with less than two minutes before halftime, captain Kate Martin (16 points) and sophomore Hannah Stuelke (11 points) kept the Hawkeyes afloat.

In the closing seconds, Johnson — who was humiliated in last year’s encounter, when Clark dismissively waved at her to take an open shot — stripped the superstar and finished the layup, giving South Carolina a 49-46 lead at halftime.

It was 20 minutes of cinema, thrilling and emotional and suspenseful. The second half initially struggled to match it, as South Carolina opened a nine-point lead, the crowd quieted and Clark’s frustration grew. The Iowa superstar cut the deficit to two with a pair of drives and assists, before freshman Tessa Johnson (19 points) and the Gamecocks got hot from deep, stretching the lead to 14.

Eventually, the Iowa-dominant crowd awoke, with Sydney Affolter bringing Iowa within five on a three-point play with 4:13 remaining. But the Hawkeyes would get no closer.

Clark kept looking up at the clock, watching the best four years of her life melt away. She looked to the refs and she looked to the ceiling, looking for help her teammates could not provide. She was removed with 20.2 seconds remaining, receiving a standing ovation from the crowd, before leaving the court for the final time, with someone else’s confetti falling on her head.

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