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Iowa faces a tall task, a big challenge in South Carolina at the Final Four
NCAA women’s basketball: Hawkeyes will try to wreck the top-ranked Gamecocks’ 42-game win streak in Friday’s national semifinal
DALLAS — Speed vs. size.
Offense vs. defense.
Challenger vs. champion.
In what could be the most highly anticipated — and most widely viewed — game in women’s college basketball history, it’s Iowa vs. South Carolina.
“We have nothing to lose,” Iowa’s Caitlin Clark said. “We’re going to go out there and play confident.”
The stage couldn’t be any larger, and the stakes couldn’t be much higher: No. 3 Iowa (30-6) and No. 1 South Carolina (36-0) collide Friday in an NCAA women’s basketball national semifinal.
Tipoff is 8:30 p.m. (ESPN) at American Airlines Center. The Hawkeyes are 11 1/2-point underdogs.
“We love the underdog mentality,” Iowa’s McKenna Warnock said. “We wanted to get to the Final Four. We celebrated, and we moved on.
“It’s been a historic season, but we’re not done yet. We want to make it more historic.”
That would be quite the trick against the defending-champion Gamecocks, who carry a 42-game win streak and have been ranked No. 1 all season.
“A lot of people don't understand how hard it is to be at the top,” South Carolina’s Zia Cooke said. “It's actually harder to be at the top than anywhere else, I believe.
“You’ve got to always keep your foot on that gas, and you have no time to take breaks off.”
Speaking of foot-on-the-gas: Led by the incomparable Clark — named the Associated Press national player of the year earlier Thursday — Iowa leads the nation in scoring at 87.6 points per game.
South Carolina, meanwhile, is third nationwide in scoring defense (51.1 ppg allowed).
“We like to get up and down the floor, too,” South Carolina post Aliyah Boston said. “So I think it could be a fast-paced game.”
Led by Boston (6-foot-5) and backup Kamilla Cardoso (6-7), the Gamecocks outrebound their foes by more than 20 boards per game.
That will be a massive challenge for the Hawkeyes.
“They have a great inside presence,” said Monika Czinano, the Hawkeyes’ efficient fifth-year post. “Both of their bigs are so good.
“The fact that they bring that size and presence off the bench is kind of unreal.”
Clark played with both Boston and Cooke for Team USA junior-level teams. Cooke recalled Clark as “a great knockdown shooter.”
“She’s also a great teammate,” Cooke said. “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.”
South Carolina blocks nearly nine shots per game and holds opponents to 31.7-percent shooting.
It is a tall hurdle, indeed. But now is not the time to overhaul anything.
“It really doesn't change our preparation, because we're not suddenly going to be able to make our team deeper or do things differently,” said Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder, who has the program on the sport’s biggest stage for the first time in 30 years.
“At this time of year, I think, if you start changing things, start making wholesale changes, you're setting yourself up for failure because that's just abnormal behavior, and the team is going to recognize that in you and think, ‘Uh-oh, something's wrong.
“This has been a fun season for us, and we do not want it to end.”
The Iowa-South Carolina winner faces the Virginia Tech-LSU victor for the national championship at 2:30 Sunday afternoon.