What to know about South Carolina, Iowa's Final Four opponent in the NCAA Tournament

Gabriela Velasquez
Des Moines Register
South Carolina's Raven Johnson (25), Zia Cooke (1) and South Carolina guard Kierra Fletcher (41) watch on during the fourth quarter of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C. Monday, March 27, 2023.

South Carolina women's basketball is a juggernaut, the heir apparent to the dynasties established by the Pat Summit-led Tennessee Lady Vols of old and the UConn behemoths of the 2000s and 2010s. At the helm is coach Dawn Staley, an advocate for her players and an icon of the sport. And leading the charge on the court is Aliyah Boston, whose value on both sides of the ball has been clear as ever in the NCAA Tournament so far.

It will be Iowa and South Carolina in the Final Four on Friday at approximately 8:30 p.m. (ESPN) to earn a spot in the national championship. Here's what to know about the defending champions before the Hawkeyes play the Gamecocks.

South Carolina's Kierra Fletcher (41) and Aliyah Boston (4) celebrate during the fourth quarter of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C. Monday, March 27, 2023.

South Carolina hasn't lost a game this season

If you're trying to find a record of South Carolina's mortality, you'll have to go further back than the beginning of this season. South Carolina's last loss came at the hands of Kentucky in the SEC Tournament on March 6, 2022.

Women's March Madness:South Carolina's strength isn't just Aliyah Boston. It's depth.

The Gamecocks are undefeated this season, toppling the likes of LSU, UConn, Stanford, UCLA and most recently Maryland, in the pursuit of perfection. Their year-long win streak is alive and well at 42 games — a national title among them.

South Carolina women's basketball players gather around the SEC championship trophy after beating Tennessee to win the SEC tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

The SEC is a hard place to win in. South Carolina doesn't have much trouble.

South Carolina, Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss, Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia all earned bids to the NCAA Tournament this year. Of those seven teams, four advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. Missouri, Arkansas, Auburn and Florida qualified for the WNIT.

None of those strong teams has been able to defeat South Carolina, though. Only two of them — Missouri and Kentucky — were able to beat South Carolina last year. And even then, those losses felt like flukes more than indictments of the Gamecocks.

More:South Carolina's star quintet ready for one last NCAA run

Before facing South Carolina this season, LSU — already secure in the Final Four this year on the other side of the bracket — was undefeated. But when the Tigers faced the Gamecocks, it wasn't even close. South Carolina also has taken care of business twice this season against Tennessee — the only other team to hand LSU a loss this season — most recently in the finals of the 2023 SEC Tournament.

South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley cuts down the net after beating Maryland in the NCAA Women's Elite Eight Basketball Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C. Monday, March 27, 2023.

South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley is establishing a dynasty

Dawn Staley is a program-altering head coach.

This is South Carolina's third consecutive NCAA Final Four appearance, and its fifth since 2015. If the Gamecocks make it all the way, defeating Iowa and either LSU or Virginia Tech in the title game, they would be the first repeat champion since UConn's four consecutive titles from 2013-16.

'Thank you, Dawn':UCLA coach Cori Close applauds South Carolina's Dawn Staley 'class' for response to injury

To put that into context, according to Emily Adams at Greenville News in South Carolina, "Prior to Staley's hiring in 2008, South Carolina had been to the NCAA Tournament twice in the previous decade and had never advanced past the Elite Eight."

But as reported by Greenville News, Staley doesn't compare herself to past powerhouses in the sport.

"We're more of a blue-collar, nose-to-the-ground program that has found some success ... and for people to tune in and want to watch us, it means that our game is growing," Staley said. "I'm a Black coach, and I've got a predominantly Black team, and for the viewers to tune into that, it means that we're opening doors that were closed for a program like us."

Aliyah Boston helped the defending national champion South Carolina Gamecocks reach their third straight Final Four.

Iowa has Caitlin Clark. South Carolina has Aliyah Boston.

Facing off on Friday will be the two best players in the game: Caitlin Clark, this season's presumed player of the year, and Aliyah Boston, the reigning player of the year. They are both unanimous AP All-Americans this season.

Clark, a junior, is coming off a history-making Elite Eight game with a whopping 41 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds. Aliyah Boston, in her senior year, nabbed 22 points, five assists and 10 rebounds in her team's own Elite Eight game against Maryland.

How they got here:South Carolina advances to third straight women's Final Four after win over Maryland

Boston hasn't been putting up the kind of crazy numbers Clark has, but she is the engine of South Carolina. Monday's game was her 82nd career double-double. During the regular season, Boston averaged 13.3 points and 9.7 rebounds a game. Her consistency has been longer than this season, too. She was a second-team All-American her freshman year and has been a first-teamer every year since. Other three-time first-team All-Americans include A’ja Wilson, Brittney Griner and Sabrina Ionescu.

Their faceoff is long-awaited. It's only fitting it will be in a game as important as this.

Some of South Carolina's other top players include: Zia Cooke (15.1 ppg, Kamilla Cardoso 9.7 ppg, Laeticia Amihere 7.1 ppg).

Iowa guard Caitlin Clark (22) celebrates a made basket during the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, March 17, 2023.

Iowa's key against South Carolina? Look like Iowa.

South Carolina can take the best teams in the country and make them look nearly unrecognizable. It hasn't been more apparent this year than in the NCAA Tournament.

“I feel like everything was rough,” UCLA guard Camryn Brown said after the Bruins' Sweet 16 loss to the Gamecocks. "We were a little frantic out there.”

“Their size, their length, their depth wears you out as the game continues on,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said after South Carolina's Elite Eight win.

'Absolutely incredible'Caitlin Clark is perfect player at perfect time for women's basketball

The Hawkeyes cannot allow South Carolina to make them forget what got them here in the first place. That doesn't mean Clark necessarily needs another 41-point triple-double (though that would probably tear the house down), but she needs to be a presence, and she needs to play her game, and the rest of the team needs to make sure that's possible. The Gamecocks cannot be allowed to let their defense take over the pace of the game.

Iowa's starting five have played together for the last 90 games, a number unheard of in the NCAA in the past two decades. That cohesion and confidence will be vital to potentially upsetting the best team in women's college basketball to advance to the brightest stage — a national championship.

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