South Carolina, wire-to-wire No. 1 all season, caps it all with a national championship, beating UConn
MINNEAPOLIS – From being the preseason top team to gaining the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, South Carolina (35-2) reigned supreme all season with outstanding play from the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, junior forward Aliyah Boston, and senior guard Destanni Henderson. Their accomplishments came along with championship play from their teammates and leadership from their Hall of Fame head coach Dawn Staley.
With a dominant 64-49 win over UConn (30-6) Sunday night in front of 18,304 fans at the Target Center in Minneapolis, the Gamecocks persevered even when the Huskies tried to mount a comeback late in the third quarter.
“They cut the lead to six, and they just kept fighting and fighting and fighting, and I thought our players were really resilient, and they didn’t want to lose this so close to being National Champions,” Staley said. “They did not want to lose this battle, so they kicked it into another gear to get it done.”
For UConn, it was the first time the 11-time national champions lost in the title game. South Carolina set the tone early with a 13-2 run to get things started. With a 22-8 lead after the first ten minutes, the Gamecocks held UConn to its fewest points in a quarter this season.
“I think they deserved it 100 percent,” Huskies head coach Geno Auriemma said. “They were the best team all year. The first five minutes, I thought they came out and set the tone right then and there for how the game was going to be played.”
At the half, the Gamecocks had a 35-27 advantage. Down the stretch, the breakout performance from Henderson helped seal the deal and keep South Carolina on top throughout the matchup. She finished with a career-high 26 points.
“We were pretty much even the rest of the time, gave ourselves a chance…but we just didn’t have enough. I’m proud of our guys just to get here, just to be in this situation. It’s just tonight; we just didn’t have enough. They were just too good for us.”
The MOP Boston followed up her double-double outing in the semifinal win over Louisville with 11 points and 16 rebounds against UConn. She averaged 17 points, 17 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game in Minneapolis. Junior guard Zia Cooke chipped in 11 points plus five rebounds.
With the National Defensive Player of the Year Boston and Henderson putting in work defensively, the Gamecocks’ lockdown defense held UConn star and Minnesota native Paige Bueckers to just 14 points and six rebounds, spoiling the homecoming for the sophomore guard.
However, Bueckers did come up big during UConn’s run to get within double digits in the third quarter, but it wasn’t enough for her to put the team on her back.
“I don’t think from the beginning of the game our offense ever looked like it was in any kind of rhythm, any kind of flow,” Auriemma said. “Then Paige tried to take it upon herself to do — that never works when one person is trying to. But their guards completely, I thought, dominated the game on the perimeter and made it really difficult for any of our guys to get any good looks.”
The title marks the second for South Carolina. They won in Dallas in 2017, with superstar A’ja Wilson leading the way. Wilson was in attendance, sitting close behind her alma mater’s bench, and joined them on the floor for the postgame ceremony.
Fans at home in Columbia, SC, will be able to see their Gamecocks in person at a ceremony set for Colonial Life Arena at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Postgame notes from South Carolina:
- The national title victory also clinched a program-record with 35 wins, breaking a tie with the 2014-15 team. Of those 35 wins, the Gamecocks finished with a perfect 14-0 record against nationally-ranked teams, another program single-season record.
- Dawn Staley is just the sixth head coach in women’s NCAA tournament history to win more than one national championship.
- Boston’s 11 points and 16 rebounds give her 30 double-doubles for the season. The junior entered the 2021-22 season with 30 career double-doubles in her first two seasons combined (64 games).
- South Carolina’s 45.5 points per game allowed in its run of six NCAA tournament games is the second-lowest by a men’s or women’s champion over the last 75 years – behind only the 2010 UConn women (43.0).