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South Carolina made history Sunday by outlasting Iowa and becoming the 10th unbeaten champion in Division I women's basketball history. It's the third national title for Dawn Staley, who now trails only Geno Auriemma (11), Pat Summitt (eight) and Kim Mulkey (four) in that department among all-time NCAA women's basketball coaches. 

What makes this year's South Carolina run so special is that it wasn't expected to happen. The 2023-24 campaign was deemed a rebuilding season for the Gamecocks, but they've been as dominant as ever -- somewhat to Staley's surprise. 

"We've exceeded expectations, internal and externally," Staley said Wednesday after winning her third consecutive Naismith Coach of the Year Award. "To be undefeated ... so unexpected. So, so very unexpected. There are plenty of times when I thought we should've won a national championship, but we didn't. This is somewhat of a repayment."

South Carolina's championship aspirations didn't come to fruition last year despite its promising roster, but this year's team was better equipped to go all the way than the one before because of its depth and improved offense. 

Three of the biggest trends from the undefeated champions are tough schedules, deep rosters with multiple scorers and NCAA Tournament experience. Check, check and check for South Carolina.

Here is the list of the undefeated champions and how South Carolina stacks up. 

  • 1985-86 Texas (34-0)
  • 1994-95 UConn (35-0)
  • 1997-98 Tennessee (39-0)
  • 2001-02 UConn (39-0)
  • 2008-09 UConn (39-0)
  • 2009-10 UConn (39-0)
  • 2011-12 Baylor (40-0)
  • 2013-14 UConn (40-0)
  • 2015-16 UConn (38-0)
  • 2023-24 South Carolina (38-0)

Tough schedules make tough teams

Out of 360 teams, Dawn Staley's 2023-24 strength of schedule ranks No. 23. The Gamecocks' pre-tournament resume included seven wins over ranked opponents, including Final Four team UConn -- a team South Carolina crushed, 83-65, in February, when the Huskies were ranked 11th.

In the SEC Tournament championship game, South Carolina outlasted reigning national champion LSU -- ranked No. 8 at the time -- with a 79-72 victory. That was the Gamecocks' second win again Kim Mulkey's squad this year. While they did not go back-to-back, the Tigers were still one of the strongest teams in the country and would go on to reach the Elite Eight.

The 2009-10 UConn Huskies might have had the toughest schedule on the perfect champions list because they had to face 13 ranked opponents before the NCAA Tournament. They certainly had momentum as that was their second consecutive undefeated season.

Before South Carolina, the last non-UConn team to be an undefeated champion was the 2011-12 Baylor Bears, who were under Mulkey's leadership. They won nine games against ranked opponents before heading to the Big Dance and eventually became the first team to complete a 40-0 season. Some of the top opponents Baylor beat were UConn and Notre Dame, who each were ranked No. 2 when they played the Bears. 

Deep rosters can be the edge

The Gamecocks lost all five starters from last season, including 2022 Naismith Women's College Player of the Year and two-time Defensive Player of the Year Aliyah Boston. This is the reason some uncertainty lingered over how far South Carolina could make it this year. Kamilla Cardoso is the team's veteran leader, but she didn't exactly come into the season with the same star spotlight as Boston. 

Cardoso led the team with 14.3 points and 9.5 rebounds entering the national title game. Those aren't the flashiest numbers compared to the other stars this season, but that has nothing to do with her talent; it's because South Carolina as a team is talented enough for her to not have to take over every game. As Staley has stated a few times this season, she thinks her bench players could be starters on other teams. 

The Gamecocks had seven players averaging over eight points per game. What's even more impressive is they have had 19 games in which five players reached double figures. 

Here are South Carolina's top scorers:

(averages before national title game)

  • Kamilla Cardoso -- 14.3 PPG
  • MiLaysia Fulwiley -- 11.8 PPG
  • Te-Hina Paopao -- 10.9 PPG
  • Ashlyn Watkins -- 9.4 PPG
  • Bree Hall -- 9.3 PPG
  • Chloe Kitts -- 9.0 PPG
  • Raven Johnson -- 8.2 PPG

The 1985-86 Texas Longhorns were the first NCAA women's team to go a full season without a loss. They had four players average double figures in scoring, helping the team score 83.9 points per game at a time when women's college basketball didn't use the 3-point line. One of their top contributors came from the bench in Clarissa Davis, who appeared in all 34 games while starting only five. She shot 66% from the field while registering a team-best 262 rebounds and 23 blocks. 

In a similar way, freshman MiLaysia Fulwiley started only three games for South Carolina, but she was the team's second-leading scorer. Fulwiley and the South Carolina bench certainly helped swing the 2024 national championship, as they outscored Iowa's reserves 37-0. 

The 2001-02 Huskies were a different breed. All five starters eventually became first-round picks in the WNBA Draft. Those starters were all double-digit scorers, but none were over 15 points per game because of how team-oriented the offense was. Swin Cash averaged a team-high 14.9 points per game while shooting an impressive 5.49% from the field. The other starters on that star-studded roster were Diana Taurasi, Sue Bird, Asjha Jones and Tamika Williams-Jeter.

Battle-tested in NCAA Tournament 

Dawn Staley is creating a powerhouse in Columbia. She took over the Gamecocks in 2008, and since then South Carolina has made the Final Four six times -- including the last four -- and won three national championships. 

South Carolina has only lost three games since 2021. The Gamecocks won the 2022 national title with a 36-2 record, and they were the overwhelming favorites once again the following season before their NCAA Tournament loss to Iowa closed the curtains at 36-1. In 2024, the Gamecocks got championship-winning redemption over Caitlin Clark and Co. 

The 2023-24 South Carolina roster looked significantly different than the one that preceded it because the starters were all different, but returners Cardoso, sophomore Raven Johnson and junior Bree Hall all had high expectations, and they stepped up beautifully en route to a perfect season. 

An undefeated champion that proved similarly adaptive amid its stellar run is 2013 UConn, which overcame an earlier Final Four loss just like South Carolina did. 

The 2011-12 campaign was supposed to be a rare rebuilding year for a Huskies program accustomed to consistent excellence. After all, the Huskies have 11 national titles, the most in NCAA women's basketball history, and were undefeated six of those seasons.

However, the Huskies made it to the 2012 Final Four before losing an overtime battle to Notre Dame. Even though they lost, their "rebuilding" roster exceeded expectations -- much like this year's Gamecocks. 

UConn used that momentum and NCAA Tournament experience to win the national title in 2013. Eventually, UConn would go become undefeated champions in 2014 and won the 2015 title with only one loss on the season. And to put the exclamation mark on Breanna Stewart's college career, the Huskies won their fourth consecutive title in 2016 with yet another undefeated season.