Fans pack sports bar for Iowa vs. South Carolina championship thriller

Two people watch a game from the bar.
Eli Goodson, left, and Annie Majure, both University of Iowa alumni, watch in anticipation during the first quarter of the NCAA women’s basketball championship game at a viewing party at Gabe’s By The Park neighborhood bar on Sunday in St. Paul.
Liam James Doyle for MPR News

Updated 5:10 p.m.

At Gabe’s By the Park in St. Paul — a known Hawkeye-friendly bar — Iowa fans donning black and yellow erupted into cheers as Caitlin Clark scored a first three-pointer just moments into the NCAA women’s championship game.

Those cheers, and some groans, kept coming throughout the tight game, as Iowan Jon Euchner, proudly wearing a yellow Hawkeye cap, sat near the front of the restaurant, eyes focused on the screen above him.

“All I want one time in my life is a team that I really love to win a national championship,” he said. “Can I get that one time?”

A man cheers while sitting at a booth.
Jon Euchner, left, and his wife Jane Hudson cheer for the Hawkeyes during the second quarter of Sunday's game at Gabe’s By The Park.
Liam James Doyle for MPR News

On Sunday, it turns out the answer was “no.”

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South Carolina, undefeated coming into the game, topped Iowa 87-75.

But the outcome made Ashley Springfield, 36, of Minneapolis happy. Springfield was one about 300 people viewing the game at Tom’s Watch Bar in downtown Minneapolis.

“Even though we’re in Minnesota and we do have the four-time champion Lynx, people are into college basketball so I love it,” Sprigfield said. “This is herstory.”

Euchner, the Iowa fan, said he’s been “totally consumed” by the Hawkeyes.

“You don’t have to be an Iowa fan to enjoy this. This just doesn’t happen very often. It’s always the marquee programs we hear about: Duke, North Carolina, Connecticut,” he said. “This is a fairly small school having a great season.”

Iowa alum Annie Majure sat at the bar with her partner, following closely in the second quarter as the Gamecocks closed the gap.

“Caitlin Clark is just the beginning,” she said. “She’s just helping to open doors for other women’s players and we’re starting to see more recognition for the talent that’s on the floor. I’m proud to be a Hawkeye for sure.”

A woman wears a jersey that reads "Clark."
Annie Majure wear’s Caitlin Clark’s name and number while cheering for the Hawkeyes during the second quarter of the NCAA women’s basketball championship game at a viewing party at Gabe’s By The Park.
Liam James Doyle for MPR News

With five minutes left on the clock, viewers sat focused with hunched shoulders — groaning in sync as South Carolina expanded its lead.

But as the game came to a close, and many tables fell silent, Janet Gracia kept it upbeat. Originally from the Quad Cities in Iowa, Gracia said she’s been cheering for the Hawkeyes since she was a child.

“When I was younger, Iowa basketball for women was very different. You could only dribble twice and pivot and you had to pass and only play half court,” Gracia said. “And so just to see them now rise to the pinnacle of being equal and drawing crowds greater than the men’s crowds is what I’m happiest about right now.”