Staley: The ‘juice’ is winning the national title
DALLAS — South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said her team has not found any extra motivation in going against Naismith and AP Player of the Year Caitlin Clark headed into their Final Four matchup against Iowa on Friday.
Asked whether her players had any extra juice because they want to show that their teammate, forward Aliyah Boston, is the best player in the country, Staley said, “The juice is in the winning the national championship.
“Our players don’t really care about anything besides that. We’re strong in our beliefs and what we do and how we’ve done things, and at this point, we just want to win, and that’s their approach. I love them for that. They’re not letting any one thing or any one person distract them from the goal at hand.”
No. 1 South Carolina (36-0) is on a quest to finish the first perfect season in school history and win its second straight national championship. Boston and Clark have garnered the biggest headlines, as the reigning (Clark) and past (Boston) players of the year.
Clark won AP Player of the Year honors Thursday after averaging 27 points, 8.3 assists and 7.5 rebounds this season, helping the Hawkeyes (30-6) advance to their first Final Four since 1993.
Much of the discussion about the keys in the game center on the South Carolina defense against the more wide-open Iowa offense.
The Gamecocks led the nation in blocks per game, offensive rebounding rate and rebounding margin. Their opponents are shooting 31.7% from the field, second-best in D-I behind Norfolk State.
Iowa, meanwhile, leads D-I in scoring (87.6 points per game) and field-goal percentage (51.1%).
“We’re big team,” said senior guard Brea Beal. “We’re a long team. I definitely think our ability to be dominant in the post definitely puts us above the bar. Just starting there, and our guards just being very direct, getting to the rim — just playing our basketball definitely will help us.”
Beal praised Clark, saying, “She’s extremely fun to watch, everybody loves watching her,” but she also thinks there will be a an extra edge to Boston and her teammates. “Naturally, that just comes with competition.” For her part, Clark downplayed the way many have played this game up as Clark vs. Boston.
“It’s going to be Iowa versus South Carolina, and that’s who’s going to win the game,” Clark said. “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.”
Iowa coach Lisa Bluder also said the comparisons between the two need to stop.
“To me that’s apples to oranges,” Bluder said. “It makes no sense. They are completely different players. They are completely different positions. They’re both great at what they do, but what they do is different. So I don’t think you can compare the two of them.
“They both contribute so much to their team’s success, but to me it’s not Caitlin versus Aliyah. What we need to do to be successful is we have to make sure we box out. We have to make sure that other people are hitting 3s and not just Caitlin.”