Sports Journalism Blog

By Hanna Barton | @Hannabarton00

Sports Capital Journalism Program

CLEVELAND – Energetic.



All have been used to describe this year’s South Carolina team. But the title no other team in the country can claim right now?


“As much as you bring up like an undefeated season, it doesn’t feel like it because, I mean, we’ve played some bad basketball that made it feel like we lost,” said South Carolina coach Dawn Staley. “So, it’s those kinds of moments that keep us just locked into the task at hand of playing — just trying to play great basketball, just trying to make great decisions out there to increase our chances of winning.”

In a women’s college basketball season that has seen pages added to the record books, the Gamecocks are one win away from etching their names alongside an elite group of teams. With their perfect record of 37-0 heading into the national championship game, a win over the 34-4 Iowa Hawkeyes would make South Carolina just the fifth women’s program in NCAA history to cap off an undefeated season with a national title.

Texas, Tennessee, and Baylor have each recorded a perfect season since the Longhorns became the first to do so in 1985. UConn, knocked out by Iowa in Friday’s Final Four semifinal, has made six undefeated runs in route to a national title, with its 2015-16 season being the most recent.

Prior to the 2023-24 season, it appeared this South Carolina team was not prepared to join the likes of those teams. All five starters from last year’s team were drafted to the WNBA, leaving the Gamecocks with a younger, less experienced team than those that helped produce a 108-3 overall record the last three seasons. But behind a powerhouse post player in Kamilla Cardoso and a deep bench that outscores opponents by 21.9 points a game, the Gamecocks have put together a run that could result in a third national title and the first perfect season in program history.

Perfection in the postseason is not foreign territory for the Gamecocks. Both trips to the national championship game — 2017 and 2022 — ended with a South Carolina win. However, the last time the Gamecocks lost a game was to Caitlin Clark and Iowa in last year’s Final Four. The only thing standing now between the Gamecocks and becoming undefeated national champions? Caitlin Clark and Iowa.

Raven’s Redemption

“We all are given life tests. You either pass them and move on to the next test, or you keep retaking them,” shared Staley. “Think about it. Think about everybody’s life. What is the very thing that you can’t get over? You keep seeing it time and time again. Then when you hurdle that, you move on to the next one.”

Raven Johnson, the Gamecocks’ starting point guard, will have to clear that hurdle on the biggest stage when her team takes on Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes on Sunday.

It is hard to believe a simple wave of the hand could drive a player of Johnson’s caliber to turn away from the sport of basketball. But the circumstances of last year’s Final Four game between Iowa and South Carolina magnified the simple gesture into a viral moment. At a point during the matchup, Clark not only left Johnson unguarded at the top of the key but waved her off from several feet away. Johnson then opted to find another teammate, rather than taking the 3-point shot. Iowa went on to defeat South Carolina, advancing to the national championship game. The video of Clark waving off Johnson quickly circulated on social media and many news outlets.

“I was embarrassed,” said Johnson “I remember being in my room crying every day, I watched that game over and over again… more than 100 times. I wanted to quit basketball.”

As Johnson wrestled with the pain from that game, she found comfort and support in those around her. Former teammate Laeticia Amihere began to lift her spirts by taking Johnson to church and providing her with encouragement.

“She made a little quote basket for me,” said Johnson. “I used to read it every day and, I don’t know, it boosted my confidence. A lot of it was about confidence and knowing who you are.”

With that newfound confidence, Johnson’s desire for redemption replaced any doubt that she felt from that moment last April.

“She’s always in the gym,” said teammate Ashlyn Watkins. “She’s worked on that shot since last summer. She was determined. She did not like what Caitlin Clark had done to her. She’s proven that she can shoot the ball, she’s been making threes all season.”

Johnson’s work in the gym is on display this season as she has doubled her scoring average from last season, recording 8.1 points per game. She highlighted her newfound confidence in the 3-point range in South Carolina’s Sweet 16 win over Indiana where she was 3-of-3 beyond the arc, including a clutch 3-pointer in the final minute of the game.

“Raven is going to be a great player because she was able to break through that moment and catapult her into that next level now,” said Staley.

When the redemption rematch tips off on Sunday, Johnson and the Gamecocks will face Iowa for the first time since that Final Four loss 372 days ago. Neither South Carolina nor Iowa left Dallas that weekend with a national championship. This weekend one of them will.

“Iowa’s a challenge,” said Staley. “They’re playing their best basketball. They’re playing inspired. They’re playing like they want to win a national championship. So are we. I think it’s a crash course of who’s going to have the better run, who’s going to be able to execute when it’s time to execute.”