March 31, 2023 

Caitlin Clark, Iowa are embracing the moment

Hawkeyes look to upset undefeated South Carolina Gamecocks in Final Four matchup

Downtown Dallas is bustling in anticipation of the first two games of the Women’s Final Four on Friday night. Fans across the globe are awaiting what is believed to be the women’s college basketball battle of the century: the Iowa Hawkeyes versus the South Carolina Gamecocks. Both teams are led by future projected No. 1 WNBA Draft picks, Caitlin Clark of Iowa, who was named the Naismith Women’s College Player of the Year award on Thursday, and Aliyah Boston of South Carolina, who was awarded the honor last season.

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Hawkeyes head coach Lisa Bluder, along with players Caitlin Clark, Monika Czinano and Gabbie Marshall, joined the media for a semifinals pregame press conference on Thursday to discuss the battle of two bird mascots, Hawkeyes versus Gamecocks.

Bluder’s initial comments touched on a key part of Iowa’s success, the program’s fans.

“We are extremely excited to represent Hawkeye nation here at the women’s Final Four,” Bluder said, “We have an incredible challenge ahead of us… So hopefully a lot of people will be cheering us on.”

The Hawkeyes had an incredibly strong presence of fans at the Sweet 16/Elite 8 regional tournament all the way in Seattle, over 1,500 miles away from Iowa City. This undoubtedly helped the Hawkeyes in their triumphant wins over Colorado and Louisville that landed them in the Final Four. Now, only 809 miles from the University of Iowa, American Airlines Arena will likely be packed with fans that Bluder proudly reminds people is “the second-best populated fan base we have in the country.”

The two Naismith Women’s College Player of the Year recipients have clearly become the main attraction of this matchup, but Clark insists that there is more to this game than just her and Boston.

“It’s going to be Iowa versus South Carolina, 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. I love playing a team sport. I don’t think I would like to play an individual sport.”

In terms of game strategy, the players acknowledged their obvious disadvantage when matched up with the Gamecocks. “Obviously we know South Carolina is taller than anybody we’ve ever played,” Clark said. “They haven’t lost a game all season.”

“They have a great presence inside,” Czinano added. “I feel like they always have. Both of their bigs are so good. The fact that they bring that size and presence off the bench is kind of unreal.”

With the tallest member of Iowa’s team standing at 6’4 and only averaging five minutes this season, South Carolina has the clear edge height-wise, with their tallest player, Kamilla Cardoso, standing at 6’7 and averaging 18.5 minutes, 9.7 points, and 1.9 blocks. Behind Cardoso, Boston also brings the average height up at 6’5, followed by a deep bench of seven over-six-footers.

The height difference poses a threat to Iowa’s other star, fifth-year center Monika Czinano, who has infamously taken one lone dribble the entire tournament while averaging 28.5 minutes and 16.5 points. But she is up for the challenge.

“I truly think at this point of my career, having played for five years, I’ve played against so many different style post players, so many different physicality levels, that I’m really excited for this opportunity,” Czinano said, “I think it’s going to be really fun. I love going against really great centers. I think it makes me better, it makes everybody better.”

Tonight will determine if the Hawkeyes’ No. 1 scoring offense can withstand the Gamecocks’ dominant defense. In true Caitlin Clark fashion, she isn’t scared of a little competition on the biggest stage in women’s college basketball.

“We’re just going to be us and believe that we can win, and that’s all you can do,” Clark said. “We’re going to give it everything we have, and we’ve enjoyed every second in Dallas, and we want to be playing two more basketball games.”

Written by Rowan Schaberg

Rowan Schaberg (she/her) is a Seattle native covering the Seattle Storm for The Next. She is currently studying Sports Journalism at Colorado State University.

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