How South Carolina beat UCLA to win the national championship

MINNEAPOLIS. Yes, it was a 40-minute championship game.

But if South Carolina intended Sunday to show that the NCAA title could almost be won in the first four minutes of the competition, even against the mighty, at times brash Connecticut, consider that hypothesis tested by pressure and proven in the sport’s greatest scene.

The makings of a rout faltered at certain points, but the Gamecocks 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 struggle in a game that quickly flew out of reach, playing out like a mismatch.

By the first timeout of the evening, less than three and a half minutes into the game, South Carolina had a nine-point lead and four starters. He had 7 second chance points and 8 rebounds. UConn had a solo hiatus, and apart from the block, there was nothing else I would like to watch again.

It was an early and decisive capture of the glory that UConn has always – always – cultivated in national championship games, an onslaught so overwhelming and tone-setting that the crowd of basketball fans at Target Center could be forgiven for wondering if they were truly generous. paid to stumble into the first round of the tournament in Columbia, South Carolina.

Instead, they saw South Carolina record 25 rebounding points, one of the highest in women’s basketball championship history, and claim their second title in six seasons.

“Today we just didn’t have enough,” said Connecticut coach Jeno Oriemma, who said he thought the opening minutes of the game were crucial despite UC’s efforts late in the night. “They were too good for us.”

Led by coach Don Staley, who took over at Columbia in 2008 and on Sunday became the first coach to beat Oriemma in a national championship game, the Gamecocks went from a mediocre program to an outstanding program that has become a mainstay of the postseason and like any other venue in the country. , a destination for valuable recruits.

And that was before the Sunday showcase in Minneapolis.

“They didn’t want to lose that battle,” Staley said of her players.

South Carolina, unlike injury-prone UCLA, was the clear favorite to win the championship and capture the title. The Gamecocks opened the season by finishing first in an Associated Press poll, a place they have never relinquished, with a roster that included five returning players and 11 returning winners.

Alia Boston, a 6-foot-5 junior U.S. Virgin Islands forward, was in the spotlight from the start. a reputation for perhaps “the hardest man in America to guard,” as Oriemma admired before the game.

“She scores if there are one, two, three, four people against her,” Auriemma said over the weekend. “It doesn’t matter. She’s capable of carving the space she wants. She gets the ball under the rim whenever she wants. She bounces off any ball she goes after. She just has the ability.”

She also had talent around her. Zia Cook, junior quarterback, arrived in Minneapolis with three 20-point games this season. Brea Beal has established herself as one of the most formidable defensemen in all of women’s basketball. Destanny Henderson was a preternaturally fast senior guard who was among the top assisters in the Southeastern Conference, while Rome, Georgia forward Victaria Saxton played a major role off the boards and in scoring shots.

They will only lose twice – 1 in overtime in Missouri on December 1st. 30 and 2 at Kentucky in the SEC Tournament Championship Game – before they stormed the NCAA Tournament. Before the start of Sunday’s game, two days after each South Carolina player scored double-digit points in the Final Four against Louisville, the Gamecocks were averaging almost 70 points per game, keeping their opponents at less than 45 and dominating the game overboard. tournament difference in rebounds plus-19.4, the best in this area.

They were also exceptional in keeping opponents in single digit quarter totals. Entering Sunday’s game, the Gamecocks did so 39 times. The Huskies were an incredible victim for Issue 40. But they were there after the first, after the Gamecocks landed twice as many shots and grabbed four times as many rebounds.

Six players from South Carolina scored in the first quarter. Paige Buekers, a prominent UC Connecticut sophomore quarterback who would later say she was “frustrated, frustrated, frustrated” by the end of the evening, scored no points in that period, and the Huskies finished the quarter 14 points behind.

The Husky’s offense picked up in the second quarter as UConn’s rebounding improved and Bukers scored 9 points. Although Boston, who finished the game with 11 points, played most of the quarter, United Connecticut left it without points. South Carolina’s lead, made possible by its overwhelming possession of second chances on the night and aided by defensive play on the perimeter that kept UKonn from clear looks, was cut to 8 to half.

The Gamecox, whose coach pocketed the 2017 championship net on Sunday, extended their lead even further in Game 3. But the game escalated sharply when South Carolina’s goals stopped for more than four minutes.

The Bukers nonetheless opened up a 10-point jumping streak for the Huskies, part of an effort that included 14 points and 6 rebounds on the night. When Evina Westbrook extended UConn’s lead to 6 with a three-pointer, the team’s second successful shot from behind the arc in 30 seconds, the center of the target echoed as if Connecticut had planted a flag in the center of the court.

But Henderson, who scored the first points of the night for South Carolina and easily led her team on Sunday with a career-high 26 points, quickly extended her lead to nine by the start of the final quarter.

“I just found open gaps, and when they collapsed into the paint, Aliya or someone else who was passing the ball just found me on the perimeter and I just let him fly,” she said after the game.

Henderson and Saxton soon used a series of layups and free throws to regain a double-digit lead for the Gamecocks, who had 17 points from the line compared to UConn’s 1 point.

On Saturday, Henderson preached that South Carolina would just need to “listen to our game plan and execute on it.” She talked about how it could be “great game, great 40 minutes”.

For the Gamecocks, except for a few bursts of pressure and 22 seconds at the start when they were just level with the Huskies, it was.

All Auriemma could do after all that time, when the maestro who had led UConn to 14 consecutive Final Fours, stood on the touchline with his arms crossed, waiting for confetti to fall on Staley and South Carolina.