CLEVELAND — Last year, Caitlin Clark became a household name after ruining South Carolina’s unbeaten season.

This year, the country’s best player couldn’t mess with perfection. 

A season that began with Dawn Staley introducing five new starters ended with South Carolina joining the ranks of the immortals, as the sport’s 10th undefeated national champion after an 87-75 win over Iowa in Sunday’s title game at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. 

The No. 1 Gamecocks (38-0), whose lone blemish of the past two seasons came against Caitlin Clark in last year’s Final Four, have won two of the past three titles, with Staley earning her third ring since 2017. 

“It was emotional for me because of how it ended last year,” Staley said. “I wasn’t going to allow what I felt happened to us last year to happen this year. … You carry the burden of every single one of your players, all the coaches and staff members that put so much into our team. And it’s a heavy load to be undefeated, to finish the job.” 

South Carolina felt flashbacks in the first quarter, trailing by 11 after allowing Clark — who scored 41 points in last year’s semifinal matchup — to score 18 points in the first 10 minutes.

Facing a pro-Iowa crowd, the nation’s best defense locked down on the greatest scorer in Division I history, holding her to 12 points in the final three quarters. 

Sophomore Raven Johnson — who was humiliated in last year’s encounter, when Clark dismissively waved at her to take an open shot — earned redemption with incredible defense, stripping Clark and scoring just before halftime to put South Carolina up 49-46. 

“I was ready for the moment,” Johnson said. “I studied her moves, and I was ready. I had confidence this year. I was telling myself last year’s not going to happen again. 

“It was a revenge tour. And there’s no better way than to play them in the championship and beat them.” 

Led by freshman Tessa Johnson (19 points), South Carolina owned a 37-0 edge in bench points, while Kamilla Cardoso (15 points, 17 rebounds) dominated inside. 

A 14-point fourth-quarter lead sparked “U-S-C” chants that were silenced when the Hawkeyes cut the deficit to five with 4:12 to play. 

It was the last time Iowa scored. 

“You have a team full of players who probably felt the lead dwindle to a point where someone like Caitlin, like a five-point lead versus Iowa is nothing,” Staley said. “When there was a timeout called, you could hear all of the players, all of them, just talk about how we needed to have stops.” 

Revenge tour completed.

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