How Caitlin Clark’s snub motivated Raven Johnson’s shot that put South Carolina in Elite 8

ALBANY, N.Y. – A year ago, South Carolina women’s basketball guard Raven Johnson was considered so non-threatening on offense that Iowa star Caitlin Clark didn’t bother to guard her in the Final Four.

It embarrassed Johnson and motivated her to spend the offseason working on her game, often putting up 200 shots a day in practice.

“I think was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Johnson said. “Things happen for a reason. They told me to get in the gym and work on my weakness.”

It also led her to Friday in the Sweet 16, when she caught a kickout pass up only two points in the final minute against Indiana and drained the 3-pointer to ice South Carolina’s win. The Gamecocks (35-0) take on No. 3 seed Oregon State (27-7) on Sunday (1 p.m., ABC) in the Elite Eight.

Johnson wouldn’t have taken the shot last year. She didn’t when she was wide open against Iowa in the Final Four, in a moment so disrespectful that it motivated her throughout the offseason to work until she was a 3-point shooting threat.

Last season, Johnson was at the top of the 3-point line when Clark, standing in the middle of the key as the nearest defender, waved Johnson away and looked for someone else to guard. Johnson passed the ball instead of taking the wide-open shot.

“She’s not one that outwardly speaks about things like that, so obviously it hurt her,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “There’s pain behind what she’s saying. But she replaced it with work ethic and getting in the gym and trying to dispel that because it was an embarrassing moment for her.”

After putting in work in the offseason, her 3-point percentage jumped from 24% to 35%. When she caught the pass on the line Friday, Indiana guard Chloe Moore-McNeil immediately closed out. Johnson was a threat to score.

“I was open, and all I could think was, let it go,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to lose. Just going from last year. Nobody can sag off me this year, and I take that very personal.”

The play was originally drawn up to get senior center Kamilla Cardoso a chance to score, but Johnson was wide open and had no hesitation to shoot the ball.

Her teammates, as well as Staley, noticed a look in her eyes Friday like she was determined not to lose. Junior guard Bree Hall said it was that moment against Clark last season that changed Johnson’s outlook on the game.

Johnson is the latest in a line of Gamecocks hitting crucial shots. It was Cardoso against Tennessee, banking in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to keep the undefeated season alive. It was Hall against LSU, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers to give South Carolina the lead twice in a row.

“Everybody has a confidence in each other, but it’s a little bit of a clutch gene,” Hall said. “They’re always like ‘Big Shot Breezy,’ but after Raven made that shot we were like, ‘Big Shot Raven.’ Everybody can go out there and hit a big shot when needed.”

Johnson will be just as vital Sunday against an Oregon State team that likes to slow down the game. South Carolina prefers to push the pace, and a big piece of that is Johnson’s speed on the court.

“When you play slow, you actually have to be more disciplined, more fundamental,” Johnson said. “I think they maneuver very well with slowing the game down and running the shot clock.

“I just want to win. I don’t want to feel the feeling that I felt from last year. I know that feeling hurts, so I don’t want to go through that again.”

Evan Gerike covers South Carolina women’s basketball for the Greenville News. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @EvanGerike.


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