South Carolina Basketball: How can Gamecocks possibly deal with Caitlin Clark?

South Carolina basketball has to figure out how to deal with Caitlin Clark if they want to win their third national championship.
South Carolina basketball guard Raven Johnson defending Caitlin Clark last year in the Final Four
South Carolina basketball guard Raven Johnson defending Caitlin Clark last year in the Final Four / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

After beating NC State on Friday, South Carolina basketball coach Dawn Staley has the unenviable task of trying to draw up a defense that can slow down Iowa's Caitlin Clark in the National Championship Game on Sunday. The Gamecock players have the even more unenviable task of trying actually to slow down Clark.

So, what can South Carolina possibly do to hold Clark back enough to bring home their third title? Last year's matchup between the Gamecocks and Hawkeyes went the way of Clark and Iowa as she scored 41 points in USC's only loss of the year.

Thankfully, Iowa played a tough game against UConn on Friday, and Huskies coach Geno Auriemma provided a bit of a blueprint for making life difficult for the star guard.

Clark is at her most comfortable when she can get moving left for jump shots and right for drives to the basket. UConn (primarily Nika Muhl with some Paige Bueckers and others sprinkled in) shaded her as if she was a left-handed player, cutting off her ability to get off clean looks for her patented step-back 3-point attempts. Aliyah Edwards and the other UConn post players made sure to keep an eye on Clark in case she drove to the right, as well.

The strategy worked as Clark took just 18 shots for the entire game (tied for her lowest shot total since November) and made just 39%.

South Carolina has the personnel to pull that off again. Guards like MiLaysia Fulwiley, Raven Johnson, and Bree Hall all could be utilized in the Clark-stopper role, and forward Ashlyn Watkins could even get a chance (though, after 20 rebounds in the semifinal against NC State, keeping her out of the paint might be a mistake). Kamilla Cardoso, Sania Feagin, Chloe Kitts, and Watkins all could play the drop coverage role that Edwards played at times for UConn.

Clark is a very good passer, though, and she has picked up 34 assists in her last 3 games. If Carolina is too aggressive with helping out on Clark, she will eat the Gamecocks alive with passes to elite cutter Hannah Stuelke or to the army of spot-up shooters that head coach Lisa Bluder throws on the floor with Clark.

Speaking of Bluder, the Iowa head coach is a good tactician who will have a counter for the no-left-for-Clark strategy if South Carolina elects to try it. South Carolina will have to stick with Clark at all times as the NCAA's all-time leading scorer is extremely dangerous if given any space.

The Gamecocks are capable of forcing a lot of turnovers, something that can be a bugaboo for Clark, at times. She can handle the basketball but is prone to giveaways when trapped or pressured. As mentioned previously, she is a good passer (even in difficult situations), but she is a risk-taker in those situations.

Between forcing turnovers and missed shots, USC must take advantage of the extra opportunities on Sunday. Points off turnovers will be a factor, but rebounding will be even more important for Carolina against the nation's leading scoring team; if a shot doesn't fall, the Gamecocks need to grab it because extra possessions for Iowa mean extra opportunities for Caitlin Clark to score.

Potentially the best defense against Clark and the Hawkeyes, though, could be a powerful offense. The Gamecocks should have success on that end of the floor against Iowa. Unlike last season, this year's version of the South Carolina basketball team can shoot the basketball, eliminating the possibility of Bluder having her team pack the paint again.

With the spacing made right by the gravity of Te-Hina Paopao, Raven Johnson, and others, Carolina can let their post players go to work. Iowa's two tallest players are 6'3", while Kamilla Cardoso (6'7"), Ashlyn Watkins (6'3"), Sania Feagin (6'3"), Chloe Kitts (6'3"), and Sakima Walker (6'5") all could impact the game with post scoring against the smaller Hawkeyes. Cardoso, in particular, should get clean looks at the basket all afternoon.

2nd chance points have been a major source of offense for the Gamecocks in games in which they don't shoot the ball well, and that could repeat on Sunday. Carolina's size advantage and Ashlyn Watkins' emergence as an elite offensive rebounder to compliment Kamilla Cardoso should provide the Gamecocks with plenty of collections on their own misses.

In what is sure to be one of the most-watched women's college basketball games of all-time, the Gamecocks and Hawkeyes will tip off at 3:00 PM EST on ABC and the ESPN app.

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