Entering Sunday's clash between Iowa women's basketball and South Carolina women's basketball, many were expected to tune in. After all, Caitlin Clark would be playing in a title game against Kamilla Cardoso and a squad manned by renowned coach Dawn Staley. While viewership was expected to be plentiful, the aftermath of it all produced unparalleled results. The National Championship clash averaged a record 18.7 million viewers on ABC and ESPN, per Front Office Sports. No other basketball game — women's, men's, college, or pro — has matched that amount in the last five years.

This follows just after Iowa and LSU's Elite Eight clash on April 1, which garnered 12.3 million views on ESPN. Looking at the record-breaking numbers, it's safe to say that women's basketball is on the rise. Stars like Clark, Cardoso, Angel Reese, and several others are at the forefront of news headlines. NIL deals are being signed left and right. Ticket sales reached new highs. With all the ongoing hype, it makes one ask: How did this all come to be?

How women's college basketball grew in the span of a year

South Carolina Gamecocks center Kamilla Cardoso (10) and Iowa Hawkeyes forward Hannah Stuelke (45) jump for opening tip off in the first quarter in the finals of the Final Four of the womens 2024 NCAA Tournament at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Let's rewind a bit. It was 2023 when Caitlin Clark made her first National Championship appearance as a junior. By then, she was already breaking records as college basketball's top player. Going up against an Angel Reese-led LSU squad, Clark and Iowa eventually fell to the Tigers. What could have been just another title game changed when Reese decided to add a little flair to the whole thing. As LSU was on the verge of victory, Reese went up to Clark and pointed to her ring finger (as a taunt), in addition to imitating Clark's “You can't see me” celebration.

The cameramen and photographers captured the moment and alas, a “rivalry” was born. Clark and Reese made headlines and went viral on social media — one was painted as a hero and the other a villain. In the span of a year, women's college basketball became a highly-talked-about topic. More people tuned in to Iowa and LSU's games. Other top teams and players grew in popularity. By the time March Madness arrived, the publicity was at an all-time high.

As expected, when the Hawkeyes and the Tigers met once again in the Elite Eight, viewership skyrocketed in numbers. Once the dust settled, it was Clark who emerged victorious this time around.

With the rematch finished, some wondered: Would the women's basketball hype die down? Not by a single bit. By then, fans were already rallying behind the Iowa star to win an elusive national championship. In addition, Paige Bueckers' return, JuJu Watkins' historic freshman season and South Carolina's dominance were big storylines in the tournament as well. Simply put, Clark and Reese's matchup paved the way for other topics within the women's basketball scene to grow among fans.

Iowa & South Carolina's title match culminates a historic season

Iowa Hawkeyes guard Caitlin Clark (22) shoots the ball as South Carolina Gamecocks guard Bree Hall (23) defends during the NCAA Tournament championship basketball game at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, Sunday, April 7, 2024 in Cleveland.
© Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register / USA TODAY NETWORK

During Sunday's National Championship, South Carolina emerged victorious, ending Caitlin Clark's final campaign with Iowa in heartbreak. Behind a huge double-double from Kamilla Cardoso (15 points, 17 rebounds) and a 19-point outing from Tessa Johnson, the Gamecocks took home their second championship in three years. Cardoso was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player after a strong showing throughout South Carolina's undefeated run.

Nevertheless, Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley made sure to thank Clark for her impact on the sport.

“I want to personally thank Caitlin Clark for lifting up our sport,” Staley said, during the Awarding Ceremony. “She carried a heavy load for our sport… You are one of the GOATs of our games and we appreciate you.” (via ClutchPoints)

Presently, Caitlin Clark, Angel Reese and Kamilla Cardoso are about to start new chapters of their respective journeys in the WNBA. No matter how they fare in the pros, it won't take away what they've done for the NCAA and women's basketball as a whole. They've given the sport attention like never before and they'll leave behind a legacy that future college hoopers will build upon in the coming years.