DALLAS — The Aliyah Boston and Caitlin Clark Showdown never materialized.
What we got was even better.
Clark put on a performance deserving of this massive stage, draining 3-pointers, breaking ankles in front of the basket and firing pinpoint passes at her teammates that South Carolina could only watch whiz by. She finished with 41 points and eight assists while Monika Czinano was devastating inside as Iowa won 77-73, snapping the defending national champions’ 42-game winning streak.
Iowa will play LSU on Sunday, with both teams trying to win their first national title.
As time expired, Clark threw the ball in the air and cupped her hand to her right ear as if to say, “You hear that? That’s the sound of a giant tumbling.”
Boston and Clark have been the best players in college basketball the last two seasons — Boston swept the player of the year honors last year, Clark did it this year — and fans have been clamoring for a matchup between the two. It never developed in this game, with Boston getting in foul trouble early.
Boston picked up her second with 1:38 left in the first quarter and didn’t play the rest of the half, and didn’t get her first points until there was 7:09 left in the third. She finished with eight points and 10 rebounds in just 25 minutes.
But the game didn’t suffer from her absence. Clark and the Hawkeyes made sure of that.
Iowa has neither the size nor the depth of South Carolina, and one of the biggest questions coming into the game was how the Hawkeyes would handle the Gamecocks inside.
Just fine, thank you.
Iowa served notice early on that it wasn’t afraid, banging inside with South Carolina and putting the Gamecocks on their heels. Time and again, Clark zipped the ball to Czinano down low, who barreled her way to the basket while South Carolina’s imposing defenders just stood and watched. She had 18 and Iowa’s 38 points in the paint were just eight fewer than South Carolina, a stat nobody would have predicted before the game.
When Clark wasn’t setting up Czinano, she was making baskets like she was playing Pop-a-Shot. There were 3s taken from DFW. Sneaky little layups. And in the filthiest of them all, she broke the ankles of 6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso on a shake and bake.
The only reason the game was even remotely close was because of Zia Cooke and South Carolina’s bench.
Cooke played the entire game, finishing with a team-high 24 points. The Gamecocks are so deep their backups are better than many teams’ starting fives, and they scored more than half — 38 — of South Carolina’s points.
But Iowa has been hearing all week — and, let’s be honest, all year — about how dominant South Carolina is. How imposing and impenetrable they are. How unbeatable the overall No. 1 seed was.
It had to grate on the Hawkeyes, especially knowing this game was the most highly anticipated of the Final Four. Either one of them.
“We’ve gotten this far by just being ourselves, stepping into our roles, and just doing what we know how to do. We don’t have to change this for this game,” Czinano said Thursday.
“We have the No. 1 offense, so just kind of ride with that and keep that going. We’ve gotten where we are by being who we are, so we just need to keep doing that.”
It was plenty. And it was plenty entertaining, a game that more than lived up to the hype.