When South Carolina and Iowa play in the Women’s Final Four in Dallas on Friday night, the game will feature the nation’s best player against the nation’s best team.
Iowa’s Caitlin Clark was named the AP and Naismith National Player of the Year this week after a season in which she finished third in the nation in scoring and led the country in assists per game.
“It was really special to get to be there and support her,” guard Gabbie Marshall told the media during a team press conference on Thursday. “There’s no one more deserving of that award. The work she puts in day in and day out, it’s unreal. I think the passion and competitiveness and joy she plays with is what makes people really want to watch her.”
“I think people are seeing that and just seeing what she’s doing day in and day out and the performances she’s putting on, and the impact she’s had on this team,” Marshall continued. “She kind of put us on the map. There’s no one more deserving of that award. I’m just glad we were all allowed to be there.”
The junior averages 27 points for her career and has had her eyes set on getting Iowa to the Final Four since she committed to the school. However, she is careful not to get carried away as her school makes its first Final Four appearance since 1993.
“I’ve just tried to enjoy every single second,” Clark said Thursday. “This is the most fun time I’ve had playing basketball this year, and that’s why the product has been so good for myself and this team because I’m just going out there and having fun and enjoying what I do. It’s not to win an award. It’s not for our team to hoist trophies. I think that has all come because we’ve played with the same love of the game we’ve had since we were young girls.”
South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston and guard Zia Cooke are both former teammates of Clark’s from the 2017 US U16 National Team.
“Caitlin has always been a knockdown shooter since I can remember, and she’s also a great teammate,” Cooke said during Thursday’s press conference. “I think we played together two years. All three of us played together. She’s definitely a knockdown shooter, but her game has grown tremendously in a lot of different ways, and I can’t wait to see it.”
While many will focus on Clark, Iowa is taking a team-first approach to Friday’s semifinal.
“We’ve gotten this far by just being ourselves, stepping into our roles, and just doing what we know how to do,” forward Monika Czinano explained. “We don’t have to change this for this game. We have the No.1 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.”
“It’s going to be Iowa versus South Carolina,” Clark declared, “and that’s who’s going to win the game. It’s not going to be one player who’s going to win the game. I’m lucky enough to have four really good teammates on the court with me at the same time.”
Meanwhile, South Carolina is the defending national champion, riding a 42-game winning streak into the season’s final weekend.
While the Gamecocks are widely regarded as the best team in the country, head coach Dawn Staley knows Clark helps make Iowa competitive.
“They all want a chance to guard her,” Staley said of her players when asked about the plan for stopping Clark.
“It’s going to take all of them probably and more to guard Caitlin. She is someone that is unpredictable, like she’ll be able to pivot and take and make incredible shots, both from outside, way outside the three, to at the rim. So we got to show her different looks in order for us to hopefully keep her somewhat under control.”
Iowa (30-6) and South Carolina (36-0) will play at 8 p.m. CT Friday.