Iowa women’s basketball prepares for biggest defensive challenge yet in South Carolina

The Gamecocks will be the third two-post defense the Hawkeyes have met in the last four games.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston interacts with teammate Ashlyn Watkins during a 2023 NCAA Final Four press conferences and open practices at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas on Thursday, March 30, 2023.

Kenna Roering, Sports Reporter

Iowa women’s basketball will face South Carolina, its third two-post defense in four games, on Friday night for a trip to the national championship. 

The Hawkeyes’ top-ranked offense got past Georgia and Colorado’s double-post defense in the second round and Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. But the Gamecocks, who boast seven players 6-foot-2 or taller, will be the biggest and best defensive lineup the Hawkeyes have faced yet. 

“They’re very tall, very strong, very physical,” senior forward McKenna Warnock said of South Carolina at media availability in Dallas Thursday.  “And, you know, we’ve played strong physical teams, but they’re definitely more of a two-post team. And so I just think it’s about going out and playing our game on the offensive side, getting some defensive stops and defensive rebounds.”

South Carolina is led down low by National Defensive Player of the Year Aliyah Boston, who scores 13.2 points and grabs 9.8 rebounds per game. Victaria Saxton is the other forward who has started in all 36 of the Gamecocks’ victories, tallying 5.1 points and 3.2 boards  per game.

When head coach Dawn Staley has to call on the bench, the South Carolina defense is just as lethal. Kamilla Cardoso, who stands at 6-foot-7, subs in and averages 9.7 points and 8.4 rebounds in 18 minutes of play.  Laeticia Amihere is also a reliable option off the bench, tallying 7.1 points and 3.3 boards per game. 

Czinano was held below her season average shooting percentage against Colorado’s double-post scheme, but had a better outing against Georgia, scoring 20 points without taking a single dribble. Czinano thinks the matchups with the Buffaloes and Bulldogs have better prepared her for Friday. 

“They have great inside presence,” Czinano said of South Carolina on Thursday. “Both of their bigs are so good. The fact that they bring that size and presence off the bench is kind of unreal. I think that I’m really lucky to have played in the Big Ten, and even for our journey on this, playing Georgia, playing Colorado, who also have very big, strong, physical posts, it’s kind of prepared me the best way it could for this game.”

RELATED: With Hannah Stuelke returning, Iowa women’s basketball prepares for Colorado’s double-post play

With South Carolina’s size, one of the biggest game changers on Friday will be rebounds. The Gamecock offense grabs a whopping 48.7 percent of available rebounds,  while Iowa secures just 27 percent of its available offensive boards.  

Seven Gamecocks average at least one offensive rebound per game compared to just three Hawkeyes — Czinano, Warnock, and freshman forward and Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year Hannah Stuelke. The three Hawkeyes emphasized on Thursday the need to limit South Carolina’s second-chance points.

“I think just being fiscally responsible and working hard down there is all you can do,” Stuelke said Thursday. “I can’t grow. I wish I could, but I can’t.”

More importantly than picking apart South Carolina’s scheme and style on the court, the Hawkeyes are focusing on staying true to themselves and their strengths that have gotten them to this point in the season — and that’s their fast-paced offensive attack and proficiency behind the arc. 

Iowa’s offense is led by National Player of the Year Caitlin Clark, but Czinano, Warnock, and guards Gabbie Marshall and Kate Martin have been just as important in getting the Hawkeyes to Dallas. Iowa converted 16 three-pointers against Louisville in the Elite Eight and will most likely need a similar performance to prevail over  South Carolina, who surrenders a nation best 51.1 points per contest.

Despite being undersized and unfavored, the Hawkeyes are walking into the American Airlines Center fearless and willing to do whatever it takes to be on top at the sound of the final buzzer. 

“We’ve gotten this far by just being ourselves, stepping into our roles, and just doing what we know how to do,” Czinano said. “We don’t have to change this for this game. We have the number one offense, so just kind of ride with that and keep that going. We’ve gotten where we are by being who we are, so we just need to keep doing that.”