Caitlin Clark and Iowa come from behind to seal 71-69 win over UConn as the Hawkeyes sensation recovers from slow start to help team set up NCAA Championship showdown with South Carolina

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Written By Maya Cantina

Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes are now just one win away from an NCAA championship, after they beat UConn 71-69 in the Final Four on Friday night.

Clark had an extremely quiet first half by her lofty standards, scoring just six points as UConn took a 32-26 lead into halftime.

But in front of a star-studded crowd that included Jason Sudeikis, Machine Gun Kelly and WNBA stars like Kelsey Plum, Clark came alive in the second period as she finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and seven assists to help the Hawkeyes to the win.

It was actually her teammate Hannah Stuelke who led the Hawkeyes in scoring with 23, while Paige Bueckers had 17 for UConn in defeat. 

Iowa, still looking for its first national championship after falling to LSU in the final last year, will face South Carolina for the crown on Sunday.

Caitlin Clark came alive in the second half to help Iowa advance to the championship

UConn's Paige Bueckers scored 17 points but it wasn't enough for the Huskies to win

UConn’s Paige Bueckers scored 17 points but it wasn’t enough for the Huskies to win

Iowa will now look to capture its first championship, after falling at the last hurdle last year

Iowa will now look to capture its first championship, after falling at the last hurdle last year

‘It´s gonna take one through five,’ Clark said of the Gamecocks. ‘They´re so skilled. They played a great game today. 

‘At this point anybody can take it. You´ve got to go prep, you´ve got one day to take of yourself, so we´ll be ready.’

That game will be a rematch of last year’s national semifinal, in which Iowa beat South Carolina 77-73.

With 10 seconds left, UConn had a chance to take the lead, but Aaliyah Edwards was called for a controversial offensive foul while setting a screen with 4.6 seconds left.

The call, which has been widely criticized online, including by LeBron James, gave the ball back to Iowa before Clark split a pair of free throws – with the miss being rebounded by Sydney Affolter and all but ending UConn’s hopes. 

After a rough opening 30 minutes because of a swarming UConn defense, Clark – the NCAA Division I all-time leading scorer – finally got going in the fourth quarter.

Jason Sudeikis was in attendance at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland for the game

Jason Sudeikis was in attendance at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland for the game

Bueckers (center) and Clark are seen battling for the ball during the national semifinal

Bueckers (center) and Clark are seen battling for the ball during the national semifinal

Many - including LeBron James - were not a fan of the offensive foul call on Aaliyah Edwards

Many – including LeBron James – were not a fan of the offensive foul call on Aaliyah Edwards

With the game tied at 51-all, Clark scored seven points in the first 2 1/2 minutes of the period to give Iowa a small cushion. UConn (33-6) got within 60-57 before the Hawkeyes scored six straight to take a 66-57 advantage.

UConn trailed 70-66 before Nika Muhl hit a 3-pointer after a steal with 39.3 seconds left to get the Huskies within one, but they wouldn’t get any closer.

‘Couldn´t be happier with our performance tonight in the second half,’ Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. ‘First half was a little rough for us. We really kept believing.’

The Huskies had hopes of winning the 12th title in school history coming into the season, but those were quickly dashed by a series of injuries that sidelined nearly half of its roster.

But Bueckers, the national player of the year as a freshman in 2021 who returned to that form after missing an entire season and part of another with injuries, carried the Huskies back into title contention.

Coach Dawn Staley and her South Carolina squad will look for another title on Sunday

Coach Dawn Staley and her South Carolina squad will look for another title on Sunday

Kamilla Cardoso scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in South Carolina's win

Kamilla Cardoso scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in South Carolina’s win

As for South Carolina – who Iowa will face on Sunday at 3pm ET – the Gamecocks notched a 78-59 rout of NC State behind 22 points and 11 rebounds from Kamilla Cardoso.

Ashlyn Watkins grabbed a career-high 20 rebounds for the Gamecocks (37-0), who are 73-1 over the past two seasons. Raven Johnson scored 13 points and Te-Hina Paopao added 10 points and six assists for South Carolina.

The Gamecocks, who outscored North Carolina State 29-6 in the decisive third quarter, will play in the championship game for the third time in the past seven NCAA Tournaments. 

They won the national crown in 2017 and 2022.

ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇ ꜱᴏᴜʀᴄᴇ

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