Minneapolis, MN—-No. 2 seeded UConn defeated No. 1 seed and defending national champion Stanford 63-58 on Friday in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament national semifinals to advance to the program’s first national title game since 2016. But they had a tall task to upend the South Carolina Gamecocks.
UConn is now 11-1 in the national title game in program history. The Huskies, whose last championship came in 2016, were looking to avoid their longest streak without a championship since they won their first title in 1995.
South Carolina are national champions again. On Sunday night, South Carolina (35-2) beat UConn (30-6) 64-49, to claim the second natty in school history. This was the first loss in a national championship game for the Huskies, which had been undefeated in 11 previous trips. Aliyah Boston was named the Final Four’s MOP.
With the victory, Dawn Staley became the first Black coach in men’s or women’s Division I basketball history to win multiple national championships.
“We played every possession like it was our last possession,” said Staley. “They were determined to be champions today.”
Destanni Henderson set the tone early and hit a long three to give South Carolina the lead, and never looked back. A little over five minutes into the game, the Gamecocks built a double-digit lead, and were up 22-8 after the first quarter. While UConn made a few runs here to make it look respectable but could never get closer than five points in the contest. By the final minutes of the fourth quarter, the game was officially on for South Carolina.
The Gamecocks outrebounded UConn 49-24, including a 21-6 advantage on offensive boards. The second chance opportunities on the glass for South Carolina was the difference in winning the national championship.
UConn trailed by 16 in the second quarter before Paige Bueckers, a Minnesota native, got got clean looks. After having just one shot in the first quarter, she scored nine points in the second to get the Huskies within 35-27 at the half. She finished with 14.
The Gamecocks started the the third with a 8-2 run to put South Carolina up 43-29 before the Huskies finally started connecting from downtown. UConn missed its first eight 3-point attempts until Caroline Ducharme made one from the left elbow and Evina Westbrook followed with another to get the Huskies within 43-37.
Henderson was the top score for the Gamecocks with 26 points, four assists and three swipes. This was the highest-scoring game of her collegiate career, and it could not have come at a better time. Boston, the Naismith Player of the Year, finished with 11 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks.
The senior guard had a three-point play to close the third quarter and then had the team’s first four points in the fourth to put South Carolina back up by double-digits. UConn couldn’t recover.
“My teammates believed in me once again. We’ve been working so hard since Day 1, and it finally paid off, all my hard work, all my focus,” Henderson said. “Me trusting the process. Me trusting God. She just put me in a position just to be great, and today, we national champions.”
UConn coach Geno Auriemma’s squad, which had the program’s most regular-season losses since 2004-05, weathered the storm of extended midseason injuries to guards Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd, could of became the first team since Baylor in 2005 to take down three No. 1 seeds on its way to winning the national title.
“Coming in, I don’t think we’re the best team there,” Auriemma said. “I don’t think we can win even if we play our A game. We need help. We need Stanford to not play their best game. We need them to miss shots they normally make. Fortunately for us, Stanford didn’t have their best stuff, and we made a couple big plays, and by some unknown miracle, we’re playing Sunday night.”
The Huskies still is, without a doubt, the most storied program in the history of women’s college basketball. The school has the record for the longest winning streak of all time (111 games), has been to the NCAA Tournament every single season since 1989, has made 28 straight Sweet 16s and 14 straight Final Fours not to mention a record 11 national championships.
On Sunday night, they just ran into a better South Carolina team.