What Dawn Staley, South Carolina said about No. 1 scoring defense vs Caitlin Clark, Iowa

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DALLAS — Is Brea Beal excited to test herself against Caitlin Clark, the best offensive player in the country? The South Carolina women's basketball senior, who was a finalist for Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, responded with a chuckle.

"A lot of people say it, but that's just me with anybody I guard," Beal said Thursday. "I don't really put anybody above the others because anybody can go off. When they play us, anything can happen."

No. 1 South Carolina (36-0) will face Clark and Iowa (30-6) at American Airlines Center on Friday (9:30 p.m., ESPN) in arguably the most anticipated matchup of either the men's or women's Final Four. The headliners are Clark and Gamecocks star Aliyah Boston: Boston beat out Clark to sweep the National Player of the Year awards in 2022, but Clark came out on top this season winning both the Naismith Trophy and Associated Press Player of the Year.

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However, Clark versus Boston will rarely happen head-to-head on the court. The 6-foot-5 Boston is the best post player in the country, while Clark, a 6-foot guard, loves to hang on the perimeter — even several feet behind it. The Iowa junior's range on 3-point shots is one of her most impressive traits, and it will be up to the Gamecocks' guards to slow down her elite scoring capacity.

South Carolina's goal is to keep it simple and run the defense that has propelled it to the first undefeated regular season in program history and a third consecutive Final Four appearance.

"I basically have been preaching all season long, let's be who we are. Let's display the habits that we've displayed all season long," South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. "Obviously we really haven't played against a player like Caitlin and her ability to have a big game, fill up the stat sheet. I think for us, we have to take something away: Her ability to score in bunches or her ability to distribute the basketball. She just really can't have the full tilt of what she does."

It's a reasonable strategy for the Gamecocks, who rank No. 1 in the country in scoring defense. Iowa ranks first in scoring offense but has struggled against top-50 defenses. Clark, who averages 27.3 points per game, was held to 22 against Georgia and had her worst 3-point shooting performance of the season against UConn.

Caitlin Clark celebrates during Iowa's Elite Eight win against Louisville.
Caitlin Clark celebrates during Iowa's Elite Eight win against Louisville.

South Carolina has also been effective late in the season at limiting high-level guards. It held UCLA's Charisma Osborne to 14 points in their Elite Eight matchup and allowed just two 3-pointers to UConn, which averages six per game. Still, they've never seen anything like Clark.

"We've played people that can shoot far out, but we haven't played people that will dribble past half court and just shoot it," starting point guard Kierra Fletcher said. "We just have to stick to what we've been doing. Defense is our bread and butter, so it'll be challenging but we should be fine."

Beal said the challenge in facing a player like Clark is tuning out the noise from fans and the national media attention.

"The biggest thing is keeping the social media and all of that separate when you're playing somebody like that," Beal. "Then you're thinking about what if this person crosses me or all this happens, so then you're out of your game mode. When you play somebody like that, you just have to play your regular defense and make sure we have specifics as far as the scout we have for her."

This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Dawn Staley on No. 1 South Carolina scoring defense vs Caitlin Clark