The path to LSU’s first national championship win was paved with records as this year’s women’s NCAA tournament shattered a series of previous highs. The Tigers’ Angel Reese-led victory over Caitlin Clark’s Iowa on Sunday rang in as the most-viewed college women’s basketball game on record, according to Nielsen’s final numbers.
The title tilt averaged 9.9 million viewers—up 103% over last year’s championship matchup between South Carolina and UConn, which averaged 4.85 million viewers on ESPN—with nearly 9.2 million viewers tuning in to ABC during the game’s first appearance on the broadcast network. Another 742,000 watched on ESPN2, and there were additional streaming deliveries on ESPN+.
The clash, which peaked at 12.6 million viewers, drew an average crowd on par with the television audience for the six-game 2021 NBA Finals series, which averaged 9.89 million viewers on ABC. It also topped both the 2022 Sugar Bowl’s audience (9.14 million) and Amazon Prime Video’s season average for Thursday Night Football (9.57 million).
LSU’s victory took place in front of a sold-out crowd of 19,482 fans at American Airlines Arena in Dallas as the entirety of the tournament, which welcomed 357,542 fans, set the Division I attendance record for women’s basketball.
Fans at home tuned in en masse throughout the final weekend of competition. According to Nielsen’s official ratings, the tournament’s slate of semifinal games marked the most-viewed women’s Final Four in ESPN history with an average of 4.4 million viewers.
It was appointment television on Friday as Clark lifted the Hawkeyes past reigning champion South Carolina in the Final Four, likely pleasing the influx of broadcast sponsors and advertisers Disney welcomed this year for the tournament. The matchup averaged 5.43 million viewers—a semifinal record, up 68% over last year’s UConn-Stanford clash in the same slot—according to Nielsen, good for the fourth-biggest draw in NCAA tournament history behind Sunday's title game, UConn's 2002 title victory over Oklahoma (5.68 million), which featured Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, and UConn's upset of Tennessee in the 2004 championship game (5.58 million).
LSU’s victory over first-time semifinal contender Virginia Tech averaged 3.33 million viewers, a nearly 50% increase over last year’s early game.
Even Iowa’s Elite Eight win over Louisville averaged 2.5 million viewers on ESPN, besting the network’s most-watched NBA game of the season.
While she didn’t walk away with an NCAA tournament title, Clark, the 2023 Player of the Year, etched her name in the record books throughout the tournament several times. During March Madness, she became just the sixth women's player to score 1,000 points in a single season and the first to reach 1,000 points and 300 assists.
Clark’s 191 points broke the scoring record for a single NCAA tournament, men or women. She surpassed Sheryl Swoopes’ 177-point and Glen Rice's 184-point marks set in 1993 and 1989, respectively. The junior guard’s 41-point performance against Louisville marked the first 40-point triple-double in NCAA tournament history, men’s or women’s, and her second 41-point showing against South Carolina stands as the most points in an NCAA tournament semifinal. The back-to-back showings made Clark the first player in tournament history with consecutive 40-point games. The 60 assists Clark, an Iowa native, dished out through the team’s six March Madness games also set a tournament record.
To top it all off, Clark’s eight 3-pointers in the championship game is the most any player, man or woman, has ever hit in a title clash (the previous record was six). She also broke the record for most threes in a single tournament.
Clark wasn’t the only player on the court Sunday setting records. For her part, Kim Mulkey—in just her second season leading the Tigers—became the first coach to win a national title with two different women's programs. She's also now the third-winningest head coach in NCAA women's tournament history. The star of Mulkey's impressive team, Reese, recorded her 34th double-double of the season in the title tilt, breaking the single-season NCAA record for double-doubles en route to a Final Four Most Outstanding Player award. As a team, LSU set NCAA women's tournament records for points scored in a half (59) and in a game in its 102-85 win over Iowa for the program's first national title.
The best part? Both Reese and Clark will be back next year for more.
With assistance from Anthony Crupi.
(This story was updated in the second paragraph to replace initial ratings with the final figures, and to add context to game's ratings in the third paragraph.)