18.7 Million!!

18.7 million people watched the South Carolina Gamecocks defeat the Iowa Hawkeyes 87-75 on Sunday, making it one of the most-watched sporting events since 2019. 

18.7 Million!!

On Monday, much of the U.S. saw a solar eclipse, which was cool…but unless you were in the path of totality, it was a tad anti-climactic. Which means that, for the rest of the country, the real blackout was Sunday night, on TV, in the form of a basketball game, when the Iowa Hawkeyes and South Carolina Gamecocks played in the women’s NCAA championship, shattering another ESPN ratings record and fully…eclipsing…the men’s tournament. (I barely knew the men’s championship game was Monday night. I don’t even know who played, let alone who won, and I refuse to look it up.)

18.7 million people watched the Gamecocks defeat the Hawkeyes 87-75, with a peak of 24 million viewers, ESPN reported on Monday. It was the most-watched women’s college basketball game since 1992 and the most-watched sporting event (not including football or the Olympics) since the NCAA men’s championship between Virginia and Texas Tech in 2019, which had 19.63 million viewers.

And Sunday night’s game was the third record-setter in a week: 12.3 million tuned in for the Elite Eight game between Iowa and LSU on April 1, and 14.2 million tuned into the Iowa-UConn game on Friday. Obviously, Iowa’s Caitlin Clark is the major factor here but ESPN also reported that women’s March Madness games without Iowa still averaged 74% more viewers than they did last season. (Not to get too sentimental but I nearly teared up when Iowa beat UConn after a very questionable call and people on the internet started suggesting the entire tournament was rigged! People only spread conspiracy theories when they truly care.)

Speaking of Clark, she didn’t get a championship but she did break approximately 200 records this season, including multiple throughout the tournament. During the game against LSU, Clark hit her 62nd three-pointer, breaking Diana Taurasi’s record for most three-pointers during a women’s NCAA tournament. (There’s already a WNBA rivalry brewing between the two that the Phoenix Mercury seems excited to be a part of.) On Sunday, she broke the record for most points scored in a single quarter for a championship game with 18 points, then became the all-time leading scorer in an NCAA tournament with 480 points, and officially ended her college career as the all-time leading NCAA scorer (men or women) with 3,951 points. She also became the first NCAA player to score 200 three-pointers in one season. (The previous record holder was Steph Curry with 162. She’s fucking insane.)

The Gamecocks are also insane. They won the NCAA championship; they completed an undefeated 38-0 run; and became the 10th team in NCAA Division 1 history to have a perfect season. (It also marked head coach Dawn Staley’s third championship win since 2017.) Iowa knocked South Carolina out during the Final Four last year and I really can’t imagine better revenge than to have a perfect season, sealed with a victory against the team that kept you from the previous championship. Staley could barely form a sentence to reporters after the win.

“I want to personally thank Caitlin Clark for lifting up our sport,” Staley said after the win, calling Clark one of the GOATs. “She carried a heavy load for our sport. And it’s just—it’s not going to stop here on the collegiate tour, but when she is the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft, she’s going to lift that league up as well.”

The WNBA draft is on April 15, and I’m stoked. But unfortunately, we have to wait until November for women’s college basketball to return.

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