Dawn Staley was bent over in tears trying to reflect immediately after her South Carolina Gamecocks won the third NCAA women’s basketball national championship with her in place as head coach. 

But as she basked in the confetti falling from the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse ceiling in Cleveland and lifted the national championship trophy, Staley shouted out the Iowa Hawkeyes for an “incredible season” and took time to praise Caitlin Clark for everything she’s done for women’s basketball.

“I want to personally thank Caitlin Clark for lifting up our sport,” Staley said after the 87-75 win over Iowa on Sunday. “She carried a heavy load for our sport, and it is not going to stop here on a collegiate tour. When she’s the No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft, she’s going to lift that league up as well.

“So, Caitlin Clark, if you’re out there, you are one of the GOATs [greatest of all time] of our game, and we appreciate you.”

While South Carolina was certainly one of the biggest storylines all season long in women’s basketball, as they capped their undefeated season to become the 10th national champion to ever accomplish that feat, Clark’s stardom skyrocketed with the Hawkeyes as she rewrote the NCAA record books. 

SOUTH CAROLINA CAPS UNDEFEATED SEASON WITH NCAA NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP WIN OVER IOWA

Clark is the all-time leading scorer in both men’s and women’s basketball, passing LSU’s Pete Maravich earlier this season. With her 30 points scored in the loss to the Gamecocks, Clark finished her career with 3,921 points, while averaging 31.7 points per game this season. 

And as Staley mentioned, Clark is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft. 

“It’s certainly been a special year, and to be honest, after last year I was like, ‘Well, how do we top what we did last year?’ … This year was more special than last year,” Clark said after the game.

Caitlin Clark looks on vs UConn

Pressure was an understatement for Clark this season as it came well beyond those in Iowa City at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The sports world was tuned into games when she was on the court as they watched the 30-foot three-pointers fall through the hoop with ease and the crisp passes to her teammates. 

Clark wasn’t able to hoist the NCAA title trophy in the end, though, despite the fantastic season the Hawkeyes had. They started off really well, going on a 10-0 run to begin the game, and Clark finished the first quarter with 18 points. 

However, she cooled off after that as South Carolina’s Raven Johnson played fantastic defense, holding her to 5-of-20 shooting. 

Still, the loss for Clark and the Hawkeyes doesn’t take away how successful a season it was and personally how great her career has been.

Dawn Staley looks on court

Staley recognizes that, and the WNBA will bear witness to her greatness next.

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