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Ranking the top 25 players in the women's Final Four

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Cooke, Boston express excitement for the Final Four (1:22)

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. (1:22)

The 2023 women's Final Four is set, and for just the second time -- and first since 1993 -- Iowa has advanced to the national semifinals.

The Hawkeyes are joined by Final Four first-timer Virginia Tech, LSU, a program returning for the sixth time but first in 15 years, and favorite South Carolina, which is back for a third year in a row.

ESPN updates our top 25 players in the women's NCAA tournament one final time before the season ends, and we have a much smaller pool from which to draw. Sixteen players made the list for the first time -- and Gamecocks account for nearly one-third of our rankings.

But Iowa's Caitlin Clark remains No. 1. Her 41-point triple-double in the Hawkeyes' regional final victory over Louisville is the stuff NCAA tournament legends are made of. And prior to Iowa's Elite Eight game, another legend -- former Seattle Storm star Sue Bird -- visited the team during its shootaround Sunday at the regional in Seattle, making a special day for Iowa even more memorable.

Bird won two NCAA titles, four WNBA championships and five Olympic gold medals. She finished her UConn career with a perfect season in 2002, the same year Clark was born. Bird watched Clark lead the Hawkeyes to the Final Four on the same Climate Pledge Arena floor where Bird ended her Storm career in September.

"There's an energy that she plays with, a passion that she plays with," Bird said of Clark. "She talks a little s---, which is nice.

"What's really cool, I see this young player who obviously has the game -- and we can talk about step-back 3s and the way she sees the floor, we can talk about the X's and O's all day. But what I really see is a player who kind of sees what her future could be, sees what her opportunities can be and is really grabbing it. I think for a lot of us, we didn't necessarily have that growing up."

Clark grew up watching the WNBA and has been a Bird fan for a long time.

"Now you're seeing a player who has the game and sees what could be and is really going after it," Bird told ESPN senior writer Kevin Pelton. "I think that's really cool. It kind of marks something special in the women's game that that exists. She's very much in the present, and she knows exactly what's at stake."

What's on the line this weekend in Dallas is the national championship. In the national semifinals Friday, No. 1 seed Virginia Tech meets No. 3 LSU (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App), followed by No. 1 South Carolina vs. No. 2 Iowa (9 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN App).

Here are the top players who will decide the title at American Airlines Center, as chosen by ESPN's Charlie Creme, Alexa Philippou and M.A. Voepel.


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Mulkey describes how each LSU player is a strong asset

Kim Mulkey joins The Paul Finebaum Show to talk about how the Tigers came together as one unit to punch their ticket to the Final Four.

1. Caitlin Clark, Iowa

G | 6-foot-0 | junior | Previous: 1
2022-23 stats:
27.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 8.6 APG

Named the most outstanding player of the Seattle 4 Regional, Clark made Elite Eight history by recording the first 40-point triple-double in an NCAA tournament game (men's or women's), scoring or assisting on 70 of the Hawkeyes' 97 points. The bigger the stage, the more Clark seems to shine. Even two defensive-minded teams in Colorado and Louisville couldn't slow her down. She managed a 72.0 true shooting percentage in her two-game tear at Climate Pledge Arena. -- Philippou

2. Angel Reese, LSU

F | 6-foot-3 | sophomore | Previous: 2
2022-23 stats:
23.2 PPG, 15.7 RPG, 1.6 BPG

Reese had a combined 30 points and 30 rebounds in the Tigers' two Greenville 2 Regional victories, so her offense wasn't quite at the level we're used to seeing. The same could be said for LSU as a team in its games against Utah and Miami. Yet the Tigers still won both. And Reese's rebounding was a big factor. She's second in Division I in the stat and first among Power 5 players. -- Voepel

3. Aliyah Boston, South Carolina

F | 6-foot-5 | senior | Previous: 3
2022-23 stats:
13.2 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 2.0 BPG

When the Gamecocks needed Boston to be in full-on All-American mode, she was there. South Carolina trailed Maryland after the first quarter in the Greenville 1 Regional final, but Boston then asserted herself, finishing with 22 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. She was last season's Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. -- Voepel

4. Georgia Amoore, Virginia Tech

G | 5-foot-6 | junior | Previous: 10
2022-23 stats:
16.3 PPG, 5.0 APG

Amoore hasn't skipped a beat since her hot end to the regular season and ACC tournament run. Her 20 3-pointers through her first four NCAA tournament games are tied for the most of any player since at least 2000, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Moreover, her ability to easily break the Ohio State press in the Elite Eight shifted the game significantly in Virginia Tech's favor. She was named the Seattle 3 Regional's most outstanding player, the second MOP award she has earned this postseason. -- Philippou

5. Elizabeth Kitley, Virginia Tech

F | 6-foot-6 | senior | Previous: 8
2022-23 stats:
18.2 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 2.3 BPG, 55.7% FG

The foundation of the Hokies' program for three years, Kitley has propelled Virginia Tech to its first Final Four. Statistically, Kitley had performed below her typical output in the tournament until busting out against Ohio State in the regional final. In the biggest game of her career, she put together 25 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Kitley's decision making in the post will be vital against the attacking LSU defense. -- Creme

6. Brea Beal, South Carolina

G | 6-foot-1 | senior | Previous: NR
2022-23 stats:
6.5 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.8 APG

Beal had the best all-around regional performance for the Gamecocks, with a combined 26 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists in their two victories. And she was the leader as usual on defense. Coach Dawn Staley said Beal helps all her teammates feel confident and comfortable, especially on the defensive end. -- Voepel

7. Zia Cooke, South Carolina

G | 5-foot-9 | senior | Previous: 13
2022-23 stats:
15.1 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 2.0 APG, 35.2% 3FG

Cooke has enjoyed a steadier senior season punctuated by two big performances in the NCAA tournament. Like Boston, Cooke has performed better against tougher competition: She had 21 points against South Florida in the second round and 18 in the Elite Eight win over Maryland. Her aggressiveness often fuels the South Carolina offense, especially when Cooke is getting into the lane. Creating plays like that will be critical in her final stretch in a Gamecocks uniform. -- Creme

8. Alexis Morris, LSU

G | 5-foot-6 | senior | Previous: NR
2022-23 stats:
14.9 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 4.1 APG

Morris made the biggest play of the regional for LSU, grabbing a loose-ball rebound with 13 seconds left and the Tigers down one to Utah in the Sweet 16. She was fouled and hit both free throws, and then hit two more with two seconds left. The fifth-year player has a calm confidence in the clutch, and she had a combined 36 points and nine assists in the regional games. -- Voepel

9. Monika Czinano, Iowa

F/C | 6-foot-3 | senior | Previous: 14
2022-23 stats:
17.2 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 67.9% FG

Czinano's numbers in the two games in Seattle weren't eye-popping, but her performances were plenty important to the Hawkeyes making it to Dallas. She totaled only 24 points, but in typical Czinano fashion only missed two shots over 54 minutes. Colorado and Louisville presented some size challenges for Czinano, but nothing like she will face against South Carolina. Her ability to defend the likes of Boston and Kamilla Cardoso, stay out of foul trouble and score opportunistically will be vital if Iowa is to pull an upset. -- Creme

10. McKenna Warnock, Iowa

F/G | 6-foot-1 | senior | Previous: NR
2022-23 stats:
11.1 PPG, 6.0 RPG

Warnock earned a spot on the all-regional team thanks to a pair of double-digit performances, including 17 points (3-for-7 shooting from 3) against Louisville in the Elite Eight. She has managed double-figure scoring in each of Iowa's past three tournament games, yet another offensive threat who can make the Hawkeyes so difficult to beat. -- Philippou

11. Gabbie Marshall, Iowa

G | 5-foot-9 | senior | Previous: 19
2022-23 stats:
6.2 PPG, 1.6 APG

Marshall -- who is also Iowa's best perimeter defender -- had more of a subdued stretch in Seattle offensively compared with the rest of her March run. But her 3-for-3 shooting from the arc in the third quarter of the team's Elite Eight matchup against Louisville was critical to the Hawkeyes' 30-16 third-quarter burst, one that effectively served as the difference in the game. -- Philippou

12. Kamilla Cardoso, South Carolina

C | 6-foot-7 | junior | Previous: 21
2022-23 stats:
9.7 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 1.9 BPG, 55.0% FG4

Sometimes it's impossible to measure Cardoso's value. The shots she alters, the rebounds she keeps alive for a teammate to haul in and the comfort she provides the guards as a passing outlet don't show up in the box score. They do impact results, though. When Cardoso and Boston are on the court together, the combination of size and skill level has no equal. When she replaces Boston in the lineup, Cardoso is the leader of a bench that is the best in the country. -- Creme

13. Taylor Soule, Virginia Tech

F | 5-foot-11 | senior | Previous: NR
2022-23 stats:
11.1 PPG, 5.7 RPG

Soule's energy was apparent all over the court in Virginia Tech's Elite Eight win over Ohio State, exemplified by her 12 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and strong defense against the Buckeyes. Her ability to get to the rim with ease gives the Hokies a different look beyond Kitley's paint presence and Amoore's shooting from the perimeter. -- Philippou

14. Raven Johnson, South Carolina

G | 5-foot-8 | freshman | Previous: NR
2022-23 stats:
3.9 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.5 APG

She doesn't start, but she leads South Carolina in assists and the ball is often in her hands in crucial moments. Johnson missed last season after a knee injury in the second game. She said the time away from playing while recovering helped her learn more by observation. This will be her first Final Four getting to play. -- Voepel

15. Cayla King, Virginia Tech

G | 6-foot-0 | senior | Previous: NR
2022-23 stats:
8.1 PPG, 3.2 RPG

She would later foul out, but King's big first half against Ohio State was a big part of why the Hokies went into the break with a lead despite relatively quiet nights, to that point, from Amoore and Kitley. King was responsible for 25% of Virginia Tech's points at the half, thanks to 3-for-4 shooting on 3s and a 3-for-3 effort from the free throw line. Although Kitley and Amoore are the centerpiece of Tech's offense, the more shooting and spacing King can provide only helps everyone else do their jobs. -- Philippou

16. Laeticia Amihere, South Carolina

F | 6-foot-4 | senior | Previous: NR
2022-23 stats:
18.2 PPG, 10.85 RPG, 2.3 BPG

It's a cliché to call someone a Swiss Army knife player. But there really is no better way to describe Amihere, who has played all over the court, even as a point guard. She has embraced the role as someone who can be effectively plugged into any lineup and asked to guard anyone. Her value to the Gamecocks is hard to measure in stats alone. -- Voepel

17. Kate Martin, Iowa

G | 6-foot-0 | senior | Previous: NR
2022-23 stats:
7.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.6 APG

Iowa tends to be at its best, coach Lisa Bluder says, when it has four or five players in double figures, and Martin helped the team reach that threshold in the Sweet 16 against Colorado. She finished with 16 points (second-best behind Clark's 31), thanks to a pair of 3s and 8-for-11 shooting from the free throw line, while also chipping in six rebounds -- something that'll continue to be crucial for the Hawkeyes in Dallas. -- Philippou

18. Kayana Traylor, Virginia Tech

G | 5-foot-9 | senior | Previous: NR
2022-23 stats:
10.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG

Traylor showed her ability to get going downhill and even help set up her teammates to score, most significantly in her 14-point outing in the Sweet 16 against Tennessee. No moment was as significant as her transition and-1 layup off the bounce immediately after the Lady Vols had rallied to pull within one. Virginia Tech held onto the momentum from there. -- Philippou

19. Victaria Saxton, South Carolina

F | 6-foot-2 | senior | Previous: NR
2022-23 stats:
5.1 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 0.6 BPG, 46.3% FG

The consummate role player, Saxton seems to know exactly what she is. Activity is her greatest skill. She doesn't need the ball but is seemingly always around it. On the boards and, especially, on defense, Saxton is willing to cover lots of ground and guard anyone. The addition of Cardoso before last season has cost Saxton minutes and opportunity, but she has remained an integral part of South Carolina's success. -- Creme

20. Flau'jae Johnson, LSU

G | 5-foot-9 | freshman | Previous: NR
2022-23 stats:
11.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.9 APG

Looking for a player to bust out in the Final Four? It could be Johnson. Her production has fallen off in the tournament, but she was LSU's third-best player all season. Given her career in music and outgoing personality, the moment shouldn't be too big, either. Johnson managed only six points on 2-of-16 shooting in Greenville, but Kim Mulkey trusted Johnson enough to keep her on the floor for 35 minutes. Her defense was key in LSU shutting down both Utah and Miami. -- Creme

21. LaDazhia Williams, LSU

F | 6-foot-4 | senior | Previous: NR
2022-23 stats:
9.4 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 54.6% FG

Reese has been the most high-impact transfer for the Tigers this season, but they also wouldn't be in the Final Four without Williams. After spending one season at South Carolina and three at Missouri, she has had some big games for LSU as a graduate transfer -- none bigger than her team-high 24 points on 11-of-14 shooting in the Sweet 16 vs. Utah. -- Voepel

22. Hannah Stuelke, Iowa

F | 6-foot-2 | freshman | Previous: NR
2022-23 stats:
6.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG

Stuelke didn't play much in Iowa's Sweet 16 meeting against Colorado because of matchup problems, but she played 19 important minutes against Louisville, a welcomed sight for the Hawkeyes who desperately needed her back to shore up their frontcourt depth after she missed Iowa's second-round game versus Georgia with an ankle injury. -- Philippou

23. Sa'Myah Smith, LSU

F | 6-foot-2 | freshman | Previous: NR
2022-23 stats:
4.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 52.5% FG

Like her teammate and fellow freshman Johnson, Smith has mainly contributed to LSU's run on defense. However, she scored six points during an 8-0 LSU run in the second quarter that separated the Tigers from Miami. Her layup with 3:23 left in the half, assisted by Johnson, gave LSU a lead it never relinquished. Smith's playing time is often dictated by matchups, and her size and athleticism could be useful against Kitley. -- Creme

24. Kateri Poole, LSU

G | 5-foot-8 | sophomore | Previous: NR
2022-23 stats:
4.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.4 APG

Poole, previously at Ohio State, is another transfer who has made good at LSU. She had started just one game this season before being moved into the starting lineup for LSU's second-round game vs. Michigan. The move has worked: In the Tigers' past three games with her starting, Poole has been another dependable ballhandler and provides more muscle on defense. -- Voepel

25. Bree Hall, South Carolina

F | 6-foot-0 | sophomore | Previous: NR
2022-23 stats:
5.0 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 36.7% 3FG

Hall scored 12 points against Stanford, 18 vs. Alabama and 10 in the regional semifinals against UCLA. She can rise to the occasion. Those 10 points against the Bruins tied for a team high. She and Cardoso were the only Gamecocks to shoot better than 50% in that game, which was dominated by defense. Hall's minutes have also been steadier in the NCAA tournament. She and Raven Johnson are the future backcourt in Columbia but have one more weekend coming off the bench. -- Creme