South Carolina women’s basketball goes wire to wire against UConn to win second national title under Dawn Staley

MINNEAPOLIS — A year after a heartbreaking Final Four loss to eventual champion Stanford, No. 1 South Carolina found redemption, winning the program’s second national championship with a 64-49 victory over the No. 1 seed. UConn Sunday series at Target Center.

The Gamecocks, who went 14-0 against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 this season, became the eighth program to win multiple national titles in NCAA women’s basketball history, joining UConn (11 ), Tennessee (8), Stanford (3), Baylor (3), Notre Dame (2), USC (2) and Louisiana Tech (2).

South Carolina (35-2) is also the 12th team to go wire-to-wire as No. 1 in the AP Poll and win it all.

“Our path has been divinely ordained,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley told Gamecocks fans as she stood on stage to accept the championship trophy.

Gamecocks junior forward Aliyah Boston, the National Player of the Year, recorded her 30th double-double of the season with 11 points and 16 rebounds and was named Final Four Most Outstanding Player.

Staley is also 2-0 in NCAA National Championship games after leading her team past Mississippi State for the 2017 title. segments to other black female coaches across the sport — in her pocket, she became the first black female coach to win multiple Division I national basketball championships.

Staley ignored any suggestion that her program had achieved “dynasty” status – she argued that UConn’s 11 titles are still the norm in the sport – but she proclaimed that team’s dominance and defensive prowess throughout the season make them his best team. in South Carolina.

The Gamecocks finished the tournament allowing 45.5 points per game, the second-lowest mark by a national champion against tournament opponents, behind only UConn in 2010.

After going 11-0 in his previous National Championship appearances, UConn coach Geno Auriemma suffered his first loss in a title game.

“I feel like going into this game, the conversation was about how Coach Auriemma was 11-0 in title games,” Boston said. “But Coach Staley was 1-0, and now she’s 2-0. And I think that just shows the type of program she’s built.”

The Huskies (30-6), whose 11 titles are tied for the most in Division I basketball, are still in the hunt for their first crown since winning four straight from 2013-16. five straight NCAA tournaments without a championship mark the longest the program has gone since winning its first title in 1995.

Gamecocks guard Destanni Henderson became the first player since 2000 to set a career high by scoring in the national championship game, finishing with 26 points in the last performance of her college career. She also had four assists, two rebounds and a tough defensive effort against 2020-21 National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers (14 points).

“To be honest with you, I didn’t even know I had a career high,” Henderson said. “But when people have spoken about it and let me know that – it’s even more of a blessing and just an honor to be doing it right now, a special time that we will all remember forever.”

Henderson also set the tone early, as his 3-pointer 22 seconds into Sunday’s game gave the Gamecocks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

South Carolina started hot, scoring 13 of the game’s first 15 points and jumping to a 30-12 advantage early in the second quarter on a Henderson 3. UConn eventually settled in, using a 15-5 run to cut the deficit to as little as seven, then to 35-27 at halftime.

The highest-ranked rookie in 2021, Azzi Fudd, played just five minutes in the first half (17 in total) for UConn after dealing with a stomach bug before the game.

South Carolina started early again after the break, dropping 16 points midway through the third after a Zia Cooke layup. Then the Huskies went on a 10-0 run – which included their first 3 of the game – to make it 43-37. The Gamecocks scored the last three points of the frame, then six of the first eight points of the fourth to cushion their lead.

“I think they deserved it 100%,” Auriemma said. “They were the best team all year. The first five minutes I thought they came out and set the tone on the spot for how the game was going to go.”

Fudd and Bueckers’ 3s made it a 10-point game with 3:18 left, but the Huskies couldn’t get closer.

Behind Boston’s productivity, the Gamecocks demolished the Huskies on the boards 49-24, the second-highest rebound differential in a championship game in NCAA Women’s Tournament history. Despite only making three shots from the field, Boston came to the line eight times, twice the number of trips made by the entire UConn team.

South Carolina as a whole shot 17-for-26 from the line compared to UConn’s 1-for-4 clip.

“I think a player like Aliyah doesn’t realize her power,” Staley said. “I’ve been around a lot of great basketball players who’ve been dominant, and I’ve seen it in her, and I wouldn’t allow her to be anything less than that.”

A year after Boston’s return to the buzzer failed in the national semifinals, Target Center was South Carolina’s playground.

2020 WNBA MVP A’ja Wilson, South Carolina’s 2017 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, ventured onto the court for Sunday’s celebrations, sporting a championship cap over the bucket hat she was already wearing. .

Staley was grooving to Mary J. Blige’s “Just Fine” as she cut the scraps of the net and told reporters she was going to have another dog, named Natty, to add to the family after bringing home Champ home after his first title.

Boston took the mic onstage to accept the Most Valuable Player award and gave a shoutout to his idol, two-time WNBA champion Candace Parker, before meeting her for the first time later in the celebration.

Cleone Boston, Aliyah’s mother, sent her daughter and teammates a link to Marvia Providence’s song “I Am a Warrior” on Sunday morning, encouraging players to “not allow anyone or your mind to take you say defeat.

The Gamecocks didn’t let that happen on Sunday night. And with another championship in tow, their status at the top of the sport for years to come has only been heightened.

What does this mean for next year’s goal?

“Like this year,” Boston said.

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