South Carolina beat UConn 64-49 to win National Championship Sunday, for the second time. The title was the second for coach Dawn Staley and the Gamecocks, who took the crown in 2017. The loss for the Huskies was theirs and coach Geno Auriemma’s first in a championship game.
South Carolina was ranked No. 1 in the AP top 25 poll all season long, and it showed in the final game. They started fast with tough defense and strong offensive rebounding, and never let up even when UConn tried to make runs in the third and fourth quarters. Coach Dawn Staley said she grew and learned on the journey to the second title.
“You know, I learned that culture matters. I learned that chemistry matters,” she said. “I learned that the majority of your team really has to be locked in. Like the majority. Because a big part of our team are made up of young players that if they were the majority, they wouldn’t know how to navigate through a season in which you’re the No. 1 team throughout the entire season. And they don’t know the heartaches of what took place last year when we fell short in the semifinals.”
Destanni Henderson put on a show
With award-winning post Aliyah Boston getting a lot of attention down low, Destanni Henderson scored a career-high 26 points on 9-20 shooting from the field. Henderson was aggressive going to the basket and hit 3-6 three-point shots. The point guard said she was just focused on the task at hand.
“I really didn’t even know I had a career high, to be honest with you,” Henderson said. “But when people spoke about it and let me know that, it’s just even more of a blessing and just an honor to do it in this moment, a special moment that all of us is going to remember forever.”
The Gamecocks outrebounded their opponents, 49-24, with 21 of those coming on the offensive end. Those offensive boards played a critical part in the win, as they only shot 36.7 percent from the field. Their 22 second-chance points were also a factor. Boston led the way with 16 rebounds and five offensive.
Christyn Williams struggled
Husky senior guard Christyn Williams only scored two points in the game, and that came with just under two minutes left to play. She was just 1-7 on the night, because South Carolina did a good job not giving her space to shoot. When she did find room, Williams couldn’t knock down the shot. It’s tough to win when your leading scorer only scores two points.
Aliyah Boston, the double-double machine
Boston notched her 30th double-double in the title game by scoring 11 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. The junior does a great job playing physically and getting in position to rebound on both the offensive and defensive glass. She swept this year’s national “best player” awards.
Defensive wins championships
The Gamecocks held UConn to just 49 points and 40 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent from the three-point line. The champs are very active on defense, and they have size inside. They don’t force many turnovers, but their active defense made it hard for the Huskies to get good looks.
Sophomore standout Paige Bueckers said she and her UConn team tried to lock down their opponents.
“Yeah, we knew South Carolina is a very physical team,” she said. “They rebound the ball extremely well. They defend really well, pressure really well. We just tried to make sure that we were back door cutting and started relieving all the pressure on offense, and just making sure the battle of the boards, nothing comes easy for them.”
“We wanted to box out really well, push the ball in transition to get them running, get them tired. But South Carolina is a great team, they had a great game, and congratulations to them.”