Fmr. MN star leads South Carolina over Iowa, Caitlin Clark in title game

Tessa Johnson #5 of the South Carolina Gamecocks points against the NC State Wolfpack during the NCAA Womens Basketball Tournament Final Four semifinal game at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse on April 5, 2024 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Getty Images)

A former Minnesota high school basketball star put on a dazzling performance for the South Carolina Gamecocks on Sunday, as the team outlasted Caitlin Clark and the Iowa Hawkeyes to win the NCAA Women's National Championship.

A year ago, 6-foot guard Tessa Johnson led St. Michael-Albertville to a Class AAAA state title at Williams Arena. Sunday, as a first-year student, Johnson led South Carolina in scoring, helping the team earn an 87-75 victory over Iowa.

Johnson shot 7 of 11 from the field to score 19 points, a new college career high.

Playing in 34 games in her first year with the Gamecocks, Johnson only averaged 6.2 points per game. But, in the tournament, Johnson has elevated her game and earned a larger role, averaging 24.5 minutes during the postseason compared to just 17.6 during the regular season.

She also scored double-digit points in two tournament games before putting in 19 on Sunday.

"I wanted to win," Johnson said of her fantastic championship performance. "Our team, we want to win. And my teammates are just encouraging, always having my back. Telling me, ‘Play how you play.’ So, I just did that."

For South Carolina, it was certainly a team effort to slow down the surging Caitlin Clark in the second half. The vaunted South Carolina defense smothered Iowa, as the Hawkeyes shot just 39.7% from the field as a team.

With Sunday's win, South Carolina completed its perfect run, finishing the year 38-0.