How South Carolina Beat UConn to Win National Championship

MINNEAPOLIS – It was a 40-minute championship game, yes.

But when South Carolina goes out on a Sunday to show that an NCAA title can be won anything but in the first four minutes of a contest, even against a powerful, sporadically feisty Connecticut, consider the hypothesis pressure tested and proven at the biggest stage of sports.

The impact of a red would ebb at certain moments, but the Gamcocks eventually defeated the Huskies with ease, 64-49, to claim the second national championship in their history.

The main problem for UConn on a night full of them was that there was hardly room for a sustained fight in a game that quickly ran out of reach as a misunderstanding played out.

At the first timeout of the evening, not even playing three and a half minutes, South Carolina had a lead of 9 points and a basket of four starting tackles. It had 7 second chance points and 8 rebounds. UConn had a single layout and, except for one block, not much else would want to look at it again.

It was an early and emphatic capture of the glory that UConn had always – always – cultivated in the national championship game, an attack so thoroughly impressive in tone setting that the ticket of basketball fans at the Target Center would have been forgiven for wondering if they had paid handsomely to enter a first tournament contest back in Columbia, SC

Instead, they saw South Carolina bounce back a margin of 25, among the largest in the history of women’s basketball championship games, and rarely their second title in six seasons.

“Tonight we just did not have enough,” said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, who said he believed the game’s opening minutes were pivotal, despite UConn’s efforts later in the night. “They were just too good for us.”

Under coach Dawn Staley, who took over at Columbia in 2008 and on Sunday became the first coach to beat Auriemma in a national championship game, the Gamcocks went from a midfield program to a marquee that became a cornerstone of the postseason and as much a destination for esteemed recruits as any place in the country.

And that was before Sunday’s showcase in Minneapolis.

“They did not want to lose this battle,” Staley said of their players.

South Carolina, unlike injury-prone UConn, was a wire-to-wire favorite to reach the championship game and deliver a title. The Gamcocks opened the season first in the Associated Press poll, a place they never capitulated to, with a list containing five returning starters and 11 returning letter winners.

“Aliyah Boston, a 6-foot-5 junior striker from the US Virgin Islands, was the center of attention from the start, a one-woman juggernaut from Hardwood with a double double as a career average and, at the end of the season, a reputation as perhaps” to guard the toughest person in America, ”as Auriemma had wondered before the game.

“She shoots when there are one, two, three, four people on her,” Auriemma said over the weekend. “It does not matter. She is able to cut out the space she wants. She gets the ball on the rim whenever she wants. She rebounds no matter what ball she goes for. She just has a gift.”

She also had talent around her. Zia Cooke, a junior guard, has arrived in Minneapolis with three 20-point games this season. Brea Beal has proven to be one of the most threatened defenders in all women’s basketball. Destanni Henderson was a supernaturally fast senior guard who was one of the assistants to the Southeast Conference, and Victoria Saxton, a striker from Rome, Ga., Stepped off the boards and hit the shots.

They will only lose twice – with 1 in overtime in Missouri on Dec. 30, and with 2 in Kentucky in the SEC Tournament Championship game – before being knocked out by the NCAA Tournament. Entering the game on Sunday, two days after each South Carolina starter posted two-digit scoring excursions in his Final Four contest against Louisville, the Gamcocks averaged nearly 70 points per game, keeping their rivals at less than 45 and d ‘Game of Thrones dominates, with a tournament rebounding margin of plus-19.4, the best in the field.

They were also exceptional at holding opponents single-digit point totals per quarter. In Sunday’s game, the Gamecocks had made it 39 times. The Huskies were an unlikely victim for the 40th edition. But there they were after the first, after the Gamecocks had dropped more than twice as many shots and collected four times as many rebounds.

Six South Carolina players shot in the first quarter. Paige Bueckers, the extraordinary sophomore guard for UConn, who would later declare himself “upset, frustrated, disappointed” at the end of the night, went unpunished in the period, and the Huskies finished the quarter behind with 14 points. .

Husky’s offense picked up more in the second quarter, with UConn improving its rebounding and the Bueckers scoring 9 points. And even though Boston, which finished the game with 11 points, played much of the quarterfinals, UConn kept their scoreless. The advantage of South Carolina, made possible by its overwhelming command of the second chances of the night and aided by the guard play on the perimeter, which kept the UConn clear of clean looks, fell to 8 at half time.

The Gamecocks, whose coach had a piece of the net from the 2017 championship in his pocket on Sunday, would continue to push their lead in the third. But the game sharpened sharply as South Carolina’s goal came in a dry time of more than four minutes.

Bueckers, meanwhile, opened a 10-point run for the Huskies with a jumper, part of an effort 14 points and 6 rebounds on the night. When Evina Westbrook brought UConn’s margin to 6 with a 3-pointer, the team’s second successful shot behind the arc in 30 seconds, the Target Center climbed as if Connecticut had planted a flag at midcourt.

But Henderson, who scored the first points of the evening for South Carolina and led the team slightly on Sunday, with a career-high 26 points, pushed the game straight to 9 for the start of the last quarter.

“I just found open gaps, and when they collapsed in color, Aliyah or whoever it was that passed the ball just found me on the perimeter, and I just flew it,” she said after the game. .

Henderson and Saxton soon used a succession of layups and free kicks to build a double lead for the Gamcocks, who had 17 points from the line, compared to UConn’s 1.

On Saturday, Henderson preached how South Carolina simply “needs to listen to our game plan and execute it.” She talked about how it could be “a great game, a great 40 minutes.”

For the Gamcocks, a few pressing bursts set off and the 22 seconds in the beginning, when they were just tied with Huskies, was it.

All Auriemma could do, after all this time as the maestro who led UConn to 14 consecutive Final Fours was on the sidelines, crossing his arms, waiting for the confetti to fall on Staley in South Carolina.

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