Women’s March Madness Tournament: Caitlin Clark and Iowa Fall Short of the National Title to South Carolina

In yesterday’s women’s March Madness Championship Game, the undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks clinched their second national title in the last three seasons after defeating Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes

As yesterday marked the last match of Caitlin Clark’s collegiate basketball career, fans alike were ecstatic to see the young star bid farewell to her time at Iowa with a national championship title. Unfortunately, the Hawkeyes star’s collegiate dream was snatched when the Gamecocks beat the Hawkeyes 87-75, marking an end to Clark’s collegiate run. 

365Scores app women's March Madness championship game. South Carolina beat Iowa 87-75.

This year’s women’s March Madness tournament broke multiple records for the most viewed matches in tournament and league history. 

Not only did this year’s March Madness tournament receive more significant viewership, but as the women’s college basketball season ended, it was evident that Caitlin Clark left a lasting legacy on the sport.

Women’s March Madness record-shattering numbers:

This year’s women’s March Madness tournament was filled with intense and highly anticipated matches, luring sports fans alike to tune into the various games. 

After Iowa beat Colorado in the Sweet 16 and LSU beat UCLA, the two teams were set to face off against each other in their first rematch since last year’s women’s March Madness Championship Game. 

Last year’s highly contested Championship Game garnered significant media attention after LSU beat Iowa. During the match, LSU’s power forward, Angel Reese, taunted Iowa’s Caitlin Clark when she pointed to her ring finger, waving her hand in front of her face, signaling that the Tigers had clinched the championship title. 

Due to the significant media attention last year, fans were excited to watch this year’s rematch as Caitlin Clark had a record-breaking season and sought vengeance for the 2023 national title. 

This year’s Elite Eight match between Iowa and LSU garnered an average of 12.3 million viewers, marking the most out of any previous women’s collegiate basketball match in NCAA history. The Elite Eight rematch saw Caitlin Clark help Iowa punch their ticket to the Final Four following their 94-87 victory over LSU.

Women’s March Madness Elite 8. Iowa beats LSU 94-87 in the women's March Madness tournament.

Heading into the women’s March Madness Final Four tournament, viewership was up 127% from last year. 

As Iowa faced UConn in the semifinals, a whopping average of 14.2 million viewers tuned into the thrilling match, peaking at 17 million viewers at one point of the game. This broke the previous record of 12.3 million viewers for the Elite Eight match, and it marked the most-watched basketball game on ESPN among men’s and women’s professional and collegiate basketball. 

Women's March Madness Final Four. Iowa beats UConn 71-69.

It has yet to be announced how many viewers yesterday’s championship match garnered, but it is expected to break more records than Iowa’s Final Four match against UConn. 

Caitlin Clark’s lasting legacy on the sport:

The increase in viewership is greatly attributed to the better coverage of the women’s March Madness tournament this year. Still, this year’s tournament also marked generational star Caitlin Clark’s final few games of her collegiate career, which could heavily contribute to the vast number of viewers. 

Clark’s five women’s March Madness matches garnered an average of 8.3 million viewers, peaking in her Elite Eight and Final Four matches. 

This season, Caitlin Clark has repeatedly made headlines for breaking NCAA records, and fans were ecstatic to see how the 22-year-old star would perform in the final rounds of the women’s March Madness tournament. 

The Hawkeyes’ guard had a record-breaking senior season, breaking the NCAA Division I single-season women’s scoring record on March 25, 2024, after amassing 1,113 single-season points. 

Three weeks before this feat, on March 3, 2024, Clark broke the NCAA’s men’s and women’s all-time leading scoring record previously held by Pete Maravich, when the Iowa native amassed 3,685 points. 

Clark’s next step in her basketball career will take her to the WNBA as she declared for next week’s draft on February 22, 2024, and is projected to be the No. 1 overall pick selected by the Indiana Fever. 

In her postgame speech following yesterday’s match, South Carolina’s coach, Dawn Staley, praised Clark for lifting up women’s college basketball. Staley called the Iowa guard one of the GOATs of women’s college basketball and stated that the sport appreciates Clark. 

While the 22-year-old fell short of clinching the national title for the Hawkeyes, she left a lasting legacy on women’s college basketball and has changed the sport for years to come. 

What’s next for NCAA women’s basketball?

This 2023-2024 season has completely altered women’s NCAA basketball as the sports world knows it. 

The sport garnered more media attention than ever before and even broke records for viewership among men’s and women’s professional and collegiate basketball. 

NCAA President Charlie Baker stated that he hopes for performance unit distribution in next year’s women’s March Madness tournament, just as their male counterparts receive. Currently, teams in the women’s tournament do not receive any financial incentive to compete. In contrast, units are awarded to men’s conferences for games played before the institutions receive financial incentives.

Additionally, the NCAA signed a new television contract with ESPN, valuing the women’s tournament at $65 million annually, ten times more than the previous rate. A few years ago, fans struggled to find every women’s March Madness match on national broadcasts. Now, women’s college basketball is receiving the recognition it deserves with this new television contract. 

As yesterday’s Championship Game ratings are expected to surpass Iowa and UConn’s Final Four ratings, it will be interesting to see what other advancements women’s college basketball will see following this past season. 

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