Saturday, May 21, 2022

South Carolina dominates Connecticut to secure second national championship

South Carolina captured its second national championship in a largely dominant display Sunday night, leaving no doubt that the Gamecocks were the best team in women’s college basketball this season.

A year that saw South Carolina go wire-to-wire at No. 1 in the Women’s Basketball Coaches Poll culminated in a 64-49 victory over the No. 2 seed Connecticut Huskies in the national title game in Minneapolis.

The Gamecocks (35-2) were dominant from the jump, running out to an 11-2 lead before UConn coach Geno Auriemma called timeout. Immediately, it was clear that UConn (30-6) had no answer for South Carolina’s size or suffocating defense. The Gamecocks outrebounded the Huskies 12-3 in the first quarter, with seven offensive rebounds. The first quarter concluded with South Carolina out in front, 22-8.

For the game, South Carolina finished with a 49-24 rebounding advantage.

Leading the way in that department for South Carolina, as she has all season, was Aliyah Boston. The women’s player of the year finished with 11 points and a team-high 16 rebounds for her 30th double-double of the season – the most in Division I.

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Boston, perhaps remembered from last year’s Final Four loss to Stanford because of her emotional reaction, was crying tears of joy after the game.

“It feels amazing,” Boston, who was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, said during a TV interview. “I’ve been thinking about this since the last season. Everyone had a picture of me crying … Happy tears! If you guys want a smile, here you go.”

Destanni Henderson scored a career-high and game-high 26 points behind aggressive play, sometimes driving through the lane at will.

“We’ve been putting in the hard work and waiting for this moment,” Henderson said. “I just stayed positive. It finally paid off.”

On the other side, 2021 player of the year Paige Bueckers had a tougher go of things. She still finished with 14 points playing in her home state of Minnesota, but she had to really work for it thanks to a strong defensive effort by South Carolina. She was held scoreless in the first quarter before scoring nine in the second frame.

UConn fought its way back in that second quarter, outscoring South Carolina 19-13 in the frame, but still trailed 35-27 at the break. The Gamecocks missed nine of their last 10 shots of the quarter to help UConn get back in the game.

South Carolina reasserted itself coming out of halftime, though, going on an 8-0 run to build the lead back to 16 points. But once again, the Huskies fought back. UConn went on a 10-0 run to cut the deficit to six points before South Carolina scored the final three points of the quarter to take a nine-point lead into the fourth.

After a UConn bucket to open the scoring in the quarter, Henderson responded with two baskets to push the lead back to 11.

Incredibly, this is the first national championship game that Auriemma has lost as UConn’s head coach. He entered Sunday 11-0 in the title game. UConn last won in 2016.

For Dawn Staley, 2022’s coach of the year, this title is affirmation of the program she’s built in Columbia. South Carolina is now just the eighth program to win multiple national titles, the 2022 squad joining the 2017 team as NCAA Tournament champions.

The Gamecocks were absolutely dominant this season and lost just two games: A one-point setback to Missouri in overtime and a two-point loss to Kentucky in the SEC tournament final. They defeated all three other No. 1 seeds at various points this season. They began the year with a nine-point win over North Carolina State and beat defending champion Stanford by four in December before dispatching Louisville in the Final Four. South Carolina also managed two wins against UConn, one in the Bahamas in November and on Sunday night – the most important of all.

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