The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

South Carolina women’s basketball notebook | Gamecocks look to cap off undefeated season with third national title

The Gamecocks last national title came in 2022.
Ayrton Breckenridge
South Carolina center Kamilla Cardoso laughs during a day of press conferences and open practices ahead of a NCAA Championship game between No. 1 Iowa and No. 1 South Carolina at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland, Ohio, on Saturday, April 6, 2024. The Hawkeyes and the Gamecocks face off at 2:00 p.m. CT. (Ayrton Breckenridge/The Daily Iowan)

CLEVELAND — Since Dawn Staley took over the helm at South Carolina in 2008, the Gamecocks have become a national powerhouse.

South Carolina has made the NCAA Tournament the last 12 seasons, winning national titles in 2017 and 2022. Staley is the only person to win both Naismith Player of the Year and Coach of the Year.

On Sunday, the Gamecocks will try and cap off a perfect season with a national championship. To do so, South Carolina must avenge its loss to Iowa, who upset the unbeaten Gamecocks, 77-73, in the Final Four last season.

“They’re playing their best basketball. They’re playing inspired. They’re playing like they want to win a national championship. So are we,” Staley said of No. 1 Iowa, who beat UConn 71-69 on Friday night. “I think it’s a crash course of who’s going to have the better run, who’s going to be able to execute when it’s time to execute.”

Staley said the keys to beating Iowa include running in transition, using their length, and making Caitlin Clark “play through us.”

South Carolina has four guards that regularly contribute: MiLaysia Fulwiley (11.8 ppg), Te-Hina Paopao (10.9 ppg), Bree Hall (9.3 ppg), and Raven Johnson (8.2 ppg).

“We have to make her guard us,” Staley said of Clark. “She’s going to have to guard not one, not two, not three, four. We’ve got four or five legitimate post players that she’s going to see and have to guard, and they all are different.”

Standing at 6-foot-7, Kamila Cardoso will pose a threat to Iowa’s post players. Hawkeye fans may see Addison O’Grady get extended minutes on Sunday because she is longer than second-year Hannah Stuelke.

Cardoso, who started her collegiate career at Syracuse and made the transition to South Carolina for the 2021-22 season, said she and her teammates are playing for Staley in the championship. The head coach said her players were “locked in” during their film session Saturday morning and “really understand what we need to do to win.”

“She deserves this. I mean, she’s an inspiration for us. She works hard every single day to get us prepared for moments like this,” Kamilla Cardoso said of Staley. So, we just want to do it for her because it’s like giving her back what she does for us.”

The Gamecocks have beaten No. 16 Presbyterian, No. 8 North Carolina, No. 4 Indiana, No. 3 Oregon State, and No. 3 North Carolina State en route to the national title game. South Carolina’s 37 wins this season is a program record, but Staley said she doesn’t pay attention to the number of wins or losses. She’s rather worried about the Gamecocks executing, and if they do that, “the wins take care of themselves.”

“As much as you bring up an undefeated season, it doesn’t feel like it because, I mean, we’ve played some bad basketball that made it feel like we lost,” Staley said. “It’s really hard to believe that we’re undefeated because I don’t feel it. As a coaching staff, we have to pinch ourselves to even know that’s true because deep down we see what our shortcomings are every single day.”

Standing in front of South Carolina’s unblemished record are Iowa’s seasoned veterans, including Caitlin Clark. The star point guard and homegrown Iowan is trying to lead the Hawkeyes to their first-ever national title.

Clark is in the conversation surrounding some of the greatest basketball players of all time, but some say she needs to win a title to cement her status, including Staley.

“I had a great career. But it’s always, ‘Did you win a championship?'” Staley said. “We’re going to talk about GOATs, I think [Breanna Stewart’s] the GOAT, to be able to win four national championships and to be MVP … If Caitlin wins the championship, she’s pretty damn good, yeah, like, she’s a GOAT. I mean, she’s really damn good regardless. But winning the championship would seal the deal. I hope to the dear Lord she doesn’t.”

The head coach, however, said her team is “very fortunate” to witness “the legacy of Caitlin Clark” firsthand and loves how No. 22 dissects the game. Staley hopes Sunday’s championship game is the most watched in women’s basketball history. Iowa’s Elite Eight win over LSU last weekend is currently the most-watched women’s basketball game, drawing 12.3 million viewers and peaking at 16 million.

“I hope that everybody gets exactly what they want out of it. And I just hope the viewers, the people in attendance will take tomorrow’s moment and carry it to the rest of the history of our sport,” Staley said. “Hopefully we can keep the eyeballs and demand where it needs to be.”

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About the Contributors
Kenna Roering
Kenna Roering, Sports Editor
Kenna Roering is The Daily Iowan's sports editor. She is a junior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism with a minor in sports and recreation management. Kenna previously worked as a sports reporter for men's wrestling and volleyball and was the summer sports editor in 2023. This is her second year with the DI.
Ayrton Breckenridge
Ayrton Breckenridge, Managing Visuals Editor
Ayrton Breckenridge is the Managing Visuals Editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and cinema. This is his fourth year working for the DI.