South Carolina strives to stay undefeated to win NCAA title

Staley details the Gamecocks' sacrifice to win (2:03)

Dawn Staley describes how South Carolina is the 'epitome of winners' due to sacrifice and commitment on the court, following the victory over 2-seed Maryland, 86-75. (2:03)

More than a year has passed since the South Carolina women's college basketball team has lost. Can the Gamecocks go undefeated the rest of the 2022-23 season?

South Carolina is four victories from becoming the 10th team in NCAA Division I women's basketball history to run the table to win the national title -- and the first team since UConn in 2015 and 2016 to win back-to-back championships. Breanna Stewart and UConn put together the last perfect season, going 38-0 in 2016.

South Carolina beat Maryland on Monday to improve to 36-0 and advance to its third consecutive Final Four.

The Gamecocks haven't lost since the SEC title game on March 6, 2022. After that defeat, South Carolina won six consecutive games to clinch its second NCAA championship. And the Gamecocks -- led by reigning national player of the year Aliyah Boston and leading scorer Zia Cooke, who start alongside three other seniors -- haven't fallen since.

We're tracking South Carolina's perfect run, examining how the Gamecocks compare to the previous nine undefeated women's national champions and revisiting perfect teams of the past.


NCAA tournament analysis

Cooke, Boston express excitement for the Final Four

After defeating 2-seed Maryland in the Elite Eight, Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke describe the elation of 1-seed South Carolina punching its ticket to the Final Four.

ELITE EIGHT: When Dawn Staley made her third consecutive Final Four as a player with Virginia in 1992, she was on a great team. But one that still entered the national semifinals with one loss. Now, she is taking her South Carolina Gamecocks to their third Final Four in a row and they're undefeated. How tough has it been to navigate a difficult schedule without a loss so far? "It's extremely hard to do what we've done," Staley said on Monday after the top-seeded Gamecocks' 86-75 victory over No. 2 seed Maryland. "I do think in this era, because parity is so much alive in our game, that you have to be levels above everybody else. Because you get everybody's best effort every single time that you step on the floor, and you can't have any slippage."

Aliyah Boston had 22 points and 10 rebounds, Zia Cooke 18 and eight and Brea Beal 16 and seven. They are part of a senior class that has been one of the most accomplished in South Carolina history, seeking the program's third NCAA title after 2017 and 2022. South Carolina is going to the Final Four for the fifth time in the past eight years, and this trip didn't have any drama. The Gamecocks won their first four NCAA tournament games by an average of 22.5 points.

They trailed 21-15 after one quarter against Maryland, but turned up their defense while the Terps ran into foul trouble in the second quarter. The Terps stayed technically within striking distance, but not realistically. "I thought the game was lost in the second quarter," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "The foul trouble, the amount of times throughout the game that they were in the bonus, really impacted our play. But you can see their size, their length, their depth wears you out as the game continues on." -- ESPN's M.A. Voepel

SWEET 16: Aliyah Boston said she would give South Carolina's defense an A-minus or B-plus. There were a few things she thought they could have done better, but the Gamecocks still largely shut down No. 4 seed UCLA, even though the 59-43 score makes it appear closer than the game actually was; at no point did it seem as if UCLA could win. Coach Dawn Staley emptied her bench -- not something you see very often in an NCAA Sweet 16 game -- as 10 Gamecocks scored, but none of them more than 10 points. Senior Brea Beal, whom Staley calls the coach on the floor for South Carolina's defense, led the way in putting the clamps on UCLA, which had just 15 points in the first half. The Bruins likely felt they had walked into a brick wall. They were outrebounded 24-14 in the first half, with zero offensive rebounds and no second-chance points. They finished the game shooting 29.4% from the field. UCLA, which was runner-up in the Pac-12 tournament, had 15 turnovers to 10 assists.

Beal finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Part of the Gamecocks' outstanding senior class, Staley said Beal makes all of her teammates feel more relaxed on court because she so quickly picks up opposing team's plays and tendencies, and covers so much ground defensively. "Brea has been our utility player. She gives us what we need at any given time," Staley said. "She's walking in her truth, and her confidence is at an all-time high. It wasn't always that. You come into our program, and you're asked to be -- not even asked. It just happened and developed into her being a fourth or fifth option of our offense, when she came in scoring the most points in the state of Illinois. That's a huge feat." -- Voepel

Boston discusses South Carolina's success, Sweet 16

Following a 76-45 win over 8-seed South Florida, Aliyah Boston says the top-seeded Gamecocks' discipline and depth are key to advancing in the NCAA tourney.

SECOND ROUND: After trailing at the end of the first quarter for just the seventh time all season, the Gamecocks roared back to life in the second half, outscoring South Florida 43-16 behind a suffocating defense, dominance on the glass and firepower in transition. Aliyah Boston (11 points, 11 rebounds) recorded her 81st career double-double, Zia Cooke had the second 20-point NCAA tournament game of her career and the Gamecocks' bench outscored USF's 30-5. Boston, Cooke and their fellow seniors finished their storied collegiate careers in Columbia with a 58-1 record at Colonial Life Arena, which means they could have as many or more national championships as home losses. South Carolina also recorded the ninth 40-game win streak in NCAA Division I women's basketball history and advanced to a ninth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance. -- ESPN's Alexa Philippou

FIRST ROUND: South Carolina didn't have its best offensive performance or outing on the glass Friday, but it didn't matter. Behind their trademark defense, the Gamecocks took care of business and beat No. 16 seed Norfolk State 72-40. "If it wasn't for the way we play defense, [Norfolk State] would've probably given us a lot of trouble given how we shot the ball," coach Dawn Staley said. The Gamecocks were held to 38.9% shooting, missed 16 free throws and allowed 14 offensive boards, but South Carolina held the Spartans to 26.2% shooting. Cooke finished in double figures for the 28th time this season, while Laeticia Amihere also joined her with 11 points. -- Philippou

Gamecocks channeling previous unbeaten teams

South Carolina's calling cards this season have been defense, rebounding and depth, strengths of many unbeaten teams of the past. ESPN's M.A. Voepel explains how the Gamecocks remind him of the 1986 Texas Longhorns team that became the first NCAA squad to go undefeated. Alexa Philippou dissects what stands out statistically about South Carolina compared to other perfect teams. And Charlie Creme examines how the Gamecocks might even have the edge over the 2016 Huskies in an important statistical metric. Story

A look at how South Carolina compares statistically with previous unbeaten teams:

Past perfection

From the first team in NCAA women's history to go unbeaten (Texas 1986) to the most recent (UConn 2016), we've covered them all. A look back at select stories from each team's perfect run.