The women’s Final Four has arrived and South Carolina is seeking perfection.

On Friday, the top-seeded Gamecocks (36-0) take on 3-seed NC State in the first of 2 national semifinal games in Cleveland, Ohio. Dawn Staley’s group heads into the Final Four with an unblemished record, the 15th team to do so. Nine of the previous 14 teams who went into the Final Four unbeaten went on to win a national championship.

Despite a shot at history, South Carolina may be a secondary storyline for some this weekend. UConn is back in the Final Four after falling in the Sweet 16 a year ago. That loss ended a streak of 14 consecutive Final Four appearances for Geno Auriemma’s group. The last time UConn made it to the Final Four, the Huskies lost to Staley and the Gamecocks in the national title game.

And then there’s Iowa, with the sport’s most electrifying player in Caitlin Clark. A record-breaker and a trend-setter, Clark has commanded attention like few others have at the college game. Her 32 points per game have helped Iowa to a 33-4 record and consecutive Final Four appearances for the first time in school history.

“You can see the finish line. You can see it,” Staley said. “NC State can see it. UConn can see it. Iowa can see the end of the finish line. … I want to win.”

Here’s a schedule for Friday’s games.

(All times Eastern)

1 South Carolina vs. 3 NC State | 7 p.m. | ESPN | Cleveland, Ohio

With the nation’s No. 3 offense (115.5 offensive rating) and the nation’s No. 1 defense (75.5 defensive rating), South Carolina has been the best team in basketball this season. After they opened at No. 6 in the preseason AP poll, the Gamecocks have been the undisputed No. 1 team in America since Nov. 13.

Staley was named AP Coach of the Year. The Gamecocks won their games by an average margin of 29.6 points. They ran their home winning streak to 60 games this season. Overall, they’ve won 107 of their last 110 games.

The 2022 squad won a national championship. The 2023 team went 36-1 with its only loss coming to Iowa in the Final Four. Then Staley had to replace all 5 starters and somehow managed to field another destructive rotation.

“I think it’s the best team South Carolina’s had,” said N.C. State coach Wes Moore. “No doubt in my mind, because they can shoot it. When we beat them a couple of years ago, they had Aliyah Boston — great player — but we were able to maybe help a little bit here and there off of other people. It’s a little bit tougher now. They’ve got 3 or 4 kids that are shooting over 40% from 3. It’s going to be a tough challenge.”

Kamilla Cardoso leads the way with 14 points and 9 rebounds a game from the center spot. Six other players average at least 8 points a game and South Carolina shoots 39% from the 3-point line — the third-best mark in the country. South Carolina leads the country in blocks and is the fourth-best rebounding team.

NC State is in the Final Four for the first time since 1998. The Wolfpack beat 6-seed Tennessee in the second round, 2-seed Stanford in the Sweet 16, and then 1-seed Texas in the Elite Eight to make the national semifinal. Thus far, the Volunteers are the only team to stay within 10 points of NC State in the NCAAs.

The Wolfpack have a strong shot defense (12th in field goal percentage allowed) and rarely send opponents to the foul line. Aziaha James (16.7 points) is 1 of 5 players who average 10 points a game for NC State.

1 Iowa vs. 3 UConn | 9 p.m. | ESPN | Cleveland, Ohio

If there was a matchup that could make South Carolina’s game an undercard of sorts, it would be a battle between Caitlin Clark and Paige Bueckers.

On its way to the Final Four, Iowa has beaten Holy Cross, West Virginia, Colorado, and LSU by an average of 16 points while Clark has put up 32.3 points, 10 assists, and 7.3 rebounds per game.

UConn beat Jackson State, Syracuse, Duke, and USC to reach the Final Four. Bueckers has averaged 28 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists a game while also collecting 13 total steals.

“Kids are competitive. They want the win. They know what’s going on out there. They know who’s who. They know what’s what,” Auriemma said when asked about the potential back-and-forth between Clark and Bueckers. “And Caitlin comes down and makes a huge 3, don’t think that Paige is going to pass the next one up and pass it to somebody.

“So I think there will be a little bit of that. But it won’t be, ‘if I score more points than Caitlin, Connecticut’s going to win.’ It won’t be that at all. And it won’t be, ‘I have to match everything that she does.'”

Beyond an individual matchup, Iowa has its mind of making up for last year. The Hawkeyes were no match for LSU in last year’s national title game and that loss has stuck with both the 2-time national player of the year and her teammates. While parity is up throughout the sport, to get back to the title fight, Iowa will have to beat an institution in women’s college basketball.

This will be UConn’s 23rd all-time appearance in the Final Four. Auriemma is 11-10 in the previous 22 appearances. While other powers have emerged, UConn is still UConn.

But Clark says Iowa has some experience now to lean on, too.

“You’re not really prepared for everything that goes on outside of the game. There’s so many distractions. There’s so many events you have to attend. There’s so many obligations that you have to do,” Clark said. “And your main focus is to come here, and you’re playing in the biggest basketball games of your career. So I think being able to block all that out and really lock in and focus on what your job is and what you’re here for, and knowing we’re not satisfied.

“So I think that’s the biggest thing is soak all that in and enjoy it but at the same time, this is business. We’re here to win a basketball game and hopefully win 2.”