Keys for Each Team in the Women’s Final Four

South Carolina, NC State, Iowa and UConn are set to do battle in Cleveland on Friday night. Here’s how each team can move one step closer to winning a national title.
Caitlin Clark celebrates winning an Elite Eight game against LSU.
Caitlin Clark celebrates winning an Elite Eight game against LSU. / Andy Lyons/GettyImages
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The women’s Final Four has finally arrived and it has everything a basketball fan could hope for: an undefeated team in South Carolina, an unexpected underdog in NC State, a record-breaking super star in Iowa’s Caitlin Clark and a comeback story for the ages in UConn. No matter what happens, drama will be dripping into Lake Erie in Cleveland.

So who will make it to Sunday’s title game? These will be the biggest factors for each team in the Final Four.

South Carolina’s depth 

As the No.1 overall seed, the Gamecocks enter the Final Four the same way they did last season: undefeated and trouncing every opponent they face. The biggest difference from last year, when South Carolina lost to Iowa in the Final Four, is that Dawn Staley might have the most balanced squad she has coached yet.

Staley had to replace all five starters from last season, doing so with a mix of bench players, freshmen and transfers. Through that transition the Gamecocks have maintained their trademark defensive prowess, but have added to it a more dynamic offense with seven players averaging at least eight points per game (compared to just three last year). Senior Kamilla Cardoso leads the offense with 14.1 ppg, and the team’s second-leading scorer? That would be a bench player: Freshman MiLaysia Fulwiley has averaged 11.9 ppg this year and was South Carolina’s secret weapon throughout the SEC tournament. Oregon transfer Te-Hina Paopao has given the Gamecocks a boost from beyond the arc, too, shooting 46.3% from three.

South Carolina center Kamilla Cardoso cuts down a net after advancing to the Final Four.
Cardoso may be the leading scorer for South Carolina, but the Gamecocks’ depth is their real strength. / Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

But if the offense isn’t quite clicking, Staley has a deep bench that can come in fresh, some top-notch rebounding and that stalwart defense she can always turn to.

NC State’s shooting

Taking on South Carolina is difficult for any team, but luckily for the Wolfpack, they have already downed a pair of top seeds, beating No. 2 Stanford in the Sweet 16 and No. 1 Texas in the Elite Eight.

NC State's surprise run has come at the hot hands of Aziaha James. The junior guard is averaging 24.3 points per game in the tournament—a sharp increase from her 15.8 ppg during the regular season—and was nearly unstoppable against the Longhorns, shooting 7-of-9 from three.

The Wolfpack are going to need to make more of those big shots as well as grab important rebounds if they want to keep pace against a disciplined South Carolina team. And if there’s any player who might want to especially knock the Gamecocks off course, it would be Saniya Rivers, who transferred from South Carolina two years ago. Rivers is averaging 15 ppg in the tournament.

Iowa’s star

Breaking record after record, Clark has had a fairytale season. The best way to finish that story, of course, would be with a national title. But first she and the Hawkeyes must get through UConn.

Iowa already avenged last year’s national title game loss with an Elite Eight win over LSU. The Hawkeyes' biggest concern in that game was size, with a taller Tigers team dominating the boards. But in the end, the lack of rebounds didn’t matter as Clark unleashed 41 points and 12 assists against the defending champs.

It won’t just be logo threes that will keep the Hawkeyes going—Iowa is at its best when Clark is efficient and dishing out her ridiculous passes. Kate Martin’s 21 points and Sydney Affolter's 16 proved pivotal against LSU, and the Hawkeyes also have Gabbie Marshall and Hannah Stuelke to lean on. In the end, though, it’ll be Clark who sets the tone of this matchup.

UConn's pace

Paige Bueckers has hit her stride at exactly the right time for UConn.
Paige Bueckers has hit her stride at exactly the right time for UConn. / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

Despite having six players out with injuries, UConn is on a 13-game winning streak, with Paige Bueckers hitting her stride in that time. The guard—who missed all of last season and much of 2021–22 with injuries of her own—has averaged 28 points per game in the tournament.

Geno Auriemma has successfully navigated a shortened bench, but as the tournament reaches its most grueling stage, the demand from his starters will be even higher. If the Huskies want a chance at staying strong through the weekend, they will need to dictate the pace against the Hawkeyes, who played a track meet against LSU. It will also take a lot of discipline from UConn to stay out of foul trouble—Aaliyah Edwards, who will be expected to complement Bueckers's scoring and snag rebounds, has had four fouls in three of four games this tournament.

The Huskies have been dealing with this injury bug for more than two months, so it seems like a miracle they’ve made it this far. Now it’s just a matter of UConn keeping the miracle going in its 23rd Final Four appearance.

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Kristen Nelson


Kristen Nelson is an associate editor for Sports Illustrated focused on women's sports. She also enjoys covering hockey and previously wrote for