Caitlin Clark Was The Future, But Only For A Second | Chloe Kitts and Freshmen Tessa Johnson and MiLaysia Fulwiley Lead South Carolina To Third National Title

Caitlin Clark stole the show in the first quarter of the 2024 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament national championship game by scoring a record 18 points. But after that, it was all about the future of South Carolina basketball and how a trio of underclassmen led South Carolina to an 87-75 win and a third national title for Dawn Staley. 

A trio of underclassmen (MiLaysia Fulwiley (L), Chloe Kitts (C) and Tessa Johnson (L) led South Carolina to an 87-75 win, capping a 38-0 season and a third national title for Dawn Staley. (Photo: Instagram/Getty)

Underclassmen Lead South Carolina

Sophomore Chloe Kitts (11 points, 10 boards) hit the boards and got active when Dawn Staley’s Gamecocks team needed an offensive spark.

“I’ve been through so many ups and downs and I’m just so excited to be able to celebrate a national championship,” Kitts said on the podium after receiving trophy and being credited for her work on the defensive end.

Freshman Tessa Johnson was masterful offensively, dropping a team-high 19 points, four boards and an assist, as well as going 3 of 6 from three. She took over in key moments hitting big shots down the stretch.

“I wanted to win,” said Johnson after the game. “And our teammates are just encouraging. I don’t feel pressure because the team and coaches I have. … No matter if I make a mistake, they are always going to encourage me and never let me give up on myself.“

Future Is Bright For Dawn Staley

These are the kinds of diamonds that Dawn Staley’s tough-love coaching approach forges.  

“The culture that coach Staley has,” kept this team together despite bringing in five new starters,” Johnson said. “The atmosphere. The environment we are in.”

Freshman MiLaysia Fulwiley scored a key nine points, with four rebounds and four assists. She had a masterful all-around game and brought high energy and elite athleticism throughout the game.

Let’s not forget Staley is adding the No.1 player in country in Joyce Edwards, McDonald’s All-American game MVP from New Jersey. Also, Madisen McDaniel from DC, a star at Bishop McNamara who also played in the game and is the No.5 prospect in the country.

Kamilla Cardoso Saves Best For Last

Senior Kamilla Cardoso put an emphatic bow on a tremendous career, adding a career-high 17 rebounds and South Carolina needed every one of those to keep the ball out of Clark’s hands, as the two-time Naismith Player of the Year scored just 12 points after that explosive first quarter. 

Both Cardoso and Clark will be top 5 picks in the WNBA Draft on April 15.

Dawn Staley Completes 38-0 Season

An emotional Dawn Staley couldn’t even gather herself enough to talk as the tears streamed and she put her head in her hands while being interviewed on the court right after the emotional win.

“You have to let young people be who they are,” Staley said. “You have to guide them, and help them navigate through, but when young people lock in and have a belief and trust, this is what can happen. They etched their names in the history book when this was the most unlikely group to do it. God rips your heart out and makes you believe the unimaginable.” 

Staley’s team surrendered 41 points to Clark in last season’s Final Four loss, and for a team that is 74-1 in its past 75 games, it was unlikely that even Clark’s heroics could overcome another superior game plan, perfectly executed by the game’s best women’s basketball coach.

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