CLEVELAND (AP) — South Carolina doesn’t feel like it has five starters. The Gamecocks think they have 10. Maybe more.

Coach Dawn Staley used that depth to wear down South Carolina’s opponents with relentless pressure and pace.

Even Caitlin Clark and Iowa — not exactly slowpokes themselves — could keep up. The proof was on the floor for all to see during the Gamecocks’ 87-75 win over Clark and the Hawkeyes on Sunday in the NCAA championship.

South Carolina’s reserves, led by guard Tessa Johnson, outscored Iowa’s 37-0, offering a reminder that while there is more parity in the women’s game than ever, the Gamecocks currently have no parallel.

“When we play teams, they’ve got to scout everyone,” Gamecocks guard Te-Hina Paopao said. “They’ve got to scout all 10, 11 of us. And I know that’s hard to do because they’re hoopers and there’s no let off when they come in.”

No, there isn’t.

There were three games in this year’s women’s tournament when one team’s reserves outscored their counterparts by 30 or more. South Carolina was responsible for all three, according to STATS, also accomplishing the feat against North Carolina and Presbyterian.

Iowa led by as many as 11 in the first quarter on Sunday. Rather than panic while Clark got hot, Staley simply turned to the group that includes Johnson, Ashlyn Watkins, MiLaysia Fulwiley and Sania Feagin and asked them to provide a boost.

They did far more than that. Johnson scored 19 points. Fulwiley added nine points to go with four boards and four assists. All of them played at least 14 minutes. All of them made an impact.

“That’s just what they do, they produce,” starting guard Raven Johnson said.

And they produce at a level that dares opponents to keep up. Watkins had 20 rebounds in a Final Four win over North Carolina State, allowing the Gamecocks to pull away even with starting center Kamilla Cardoso nursing a right leg injury.

Even Iowa, the nation’s highest-scoring team led by its all-everything star, eventually got worn out. The Hawkeyes got within five in the fourth quarter before South Carolina held Iowa scoreless over the final 4:12.

“One thing that we’ve always been able to do is really push the ball and really run,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “We did score pretty well. We scored 20 more points than other people do against South Carolina, so we did score pretty well. But, yeah, to be able to have all those fresh legs on Caitlin was really tough.”

It’s what happens to just about everybody who plays the Gamecocks and their pipeline that consists of stars and players likely just waiting to be stars.

The time for Tessa Johnson and company to move into the starting lineup is coming. It would have come sooner had they chosen to play elsewhere. They didn’t. And that made all the difference.

“They could start on any team in this country,” Paopao said. “But they decided to sacrifice that and play for this team and win a national championship, which we did today.”


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