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S.C. Gamecocks end undefeated season as NCAA women's basketball champions

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The South Carolina Gamecocks are the women's college basketball champions. They beat the Iowa Hawkeyes yesterday to cap off an undefeated season. Joining us to talk more about the game is Jesse Washington from ESPN's Andscape. Jesse, it never seemed once, at least, to me, that South Carolina was ever in danger. They controlled that game from the moment that the tipoff happened to the end.

JESSE WASHINGTON: Yeah, I was a little worried in the first quarter, though, because Caitlin Clark was doing Caitlin Clark things and hitting threes in people's faces and getting to the rim. But as soon as they got close to halftime, and Raven Johnson, the point guard from South Carolina, actually stole the ball from Caitlin off her dribble and went in for a layup, put South Carolina up - they never trailed after that.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, they outrebounded Iowa by 22, so their size was a huge advantage. It's an undefeated season for South Carolina, though, and the third championship in the last seven seasons for coach Dawn Staley. I mean, she's one of the greats of all time now.

WASHINGTON: Well, I think what we saw in that game yesterday was the birth of a dynasty. And move over, UConn, let's - you know, Tennessee is way in the rearview. South Carolina is reloading year after year. They bring almost their whole team back. Dawn Staley - this is her third championship, joining a select group. And her program is just humming on all cylinders. Last year, they went undefeated and lost to Iowa in the semis. They graduated five starters and still came back and went undefeated the next season. It's really amazing.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. You mentioned Caitlin Clark, who had 30 points. I mean, what does she mean to the sport? And her next move, which will be the WNBA - I mean, what does that potentially mean for women's basketball?

WASHINGTON: Yeah, that's been a big storyline around this tournament - how they're getting so many viewers. The semifinal game between Iowa and UConn got 16 million folks watching on television, online. That's more than every World Series game last year, more than the NBA finals. And so Caitlin really elevated the sport with her excitement, with her unbelievable ability to put the ball in the basket from anywhere, it seemed like. And it goes to show that you're truly a great, great player if you score 30 points and you lose, you know? Like, oh, she should have done more.

So what she's meant has - really getting women's college basketball the attention it deserves. And when she goes to the league, this is probably going to continue. People are going to want to watch her, see? The WNBA is on a upswing, and Caitlin Clark is just going to be rocket fuel for that.

MARTÍNEZ: And timing, too - momentum is all about timing. In this case, the WNBA draft is next Monday in Brooklyn. Fans will be allowed to be at the draft for the first time since 2016. It's going to be on live at ESPN. Indiana Fever has the first pick. They'll probably make Caitlin Clark the first pick. I mean, it's feeling like the WNBA is really going to take another step up after this.

WASHINGTON: Yeah, I hope so, and they should, and they deserve it, man. It's great basketball.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

WASHINGTON: It's great basketball. You know, there's a men's game, NCAA...

MARTÍNEZ: Oh, there is.

WASHINGTON: ...Championship game. And we're...

MARTÍNEZ: When is that? Today?

WASHINGTON: ...Not even thinking about it. Yeah, Purdue, UConn - remember them? You know, but women's basketball has eclipsed - see what I did there? - the men's game at this moment. And it's just - you know, it's an amazing thing to see.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. By the way, that's UConn, Purdue - a couple of big centers, Donovan Clingan and Zach Edey. They're both 7-footers. They're going to go up against each other. I guess if you want to pay attention to that, you can, right?

WASHINGTON: You can if you want to. I will. It'll be cool.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, me too. Jesse Washington from ESPN's Andscape. Thanks a lot.

WASHINGTON: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MATT QUENTIN'S "WANDERING WAYS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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