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Gamecocks on Top! USC earns title with strong win over UConn

The Gamecocks took down the Huskies in a commanding performance.

MINNEAPOLIS — South Carolina defeated UConn 64-49 to win the national title Sunday, a dominating performance giving further evidence that the balance of power in women's college basketball appears to have shifted down to Columbia. 

The victory in Minneapolis gives the Gamecocks (35-2) their second national title in the last five years, more than any other team in that stretch. And that it comes against the team that's been the queens of college basketball, winning 10 championships this century. Up until Sunday, they'd been 11-0 in national title games. 

Owing to the strengths they've shown all season, the Gamecocks used a combination of rebounding and defense to hound the Huskies into an oft-kilter performance for a program that's won more titles than any team in women's basketball history.

In the end, USC simply outclassed UConn in all aspects of the game. 

“We played every possession like it was our last possession,” said Staley, the first Black men’s or women’s coach with two Division I titles. “They were determined to be champions today.”

Senior Destanni Henderson scored a career-high 26 points, while National Player of the Year Aliyah Boston added 11 points and 16 rebounds.

“Obviously, I’ve been thinking about this since last season. Everyone had a picture of me crying,” said Boston, who was the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. “Today, we’re national champions and I’m in tears.”

The win adds to the team's other championship collected in 2017. That squad, led by legend A'ja Wilson, topped Mississippi State in the title game.

The Gamecocks had come close in recent years: In 2020, they were the number one team in America and the prohibitive favorite to win it all. But COVID-19 broke out across America, and the tournament was canceled, dashing that team's chances. Then last year, USC made it to the semifinal game before losing to Stanford in heartbreaking fashion in the final seconds.

Starting with a Destanni Henderson three, USC raced out to an 11-2 lead to start the game, forcing UConn Head Coach Geno Auriemma to call a timeout with 6:35 to go in the first quarter. USC's stifling defense and rebounding troubled the UConn, helping the Gamecocks to a 22-8 lead at the end of the first. USC had a 12-3 edge in rebounding and force five turnovers in that frame. 

USC continued their run in the second, using a 16-0 advantage in second chance points to get the lead all the way up to 18 points.

UConn, however, would finally claw their way into the game, led by sophomore star Paige Bueckers, who'd have 9 points by halftime. By the break, the Gamecock lead was down to 8 points. 

While UConn would go on runs in the third, USC wouldn't let them get too much momentum. When it would look like the Huskies were starting to turn the tide, the Gamecocks would get a key basket from Henderson, a rebound or block from Aliyah Boston, to keep them just out of reach. 

They'd find those same troubles in the fourth, as each comeback attempt would be thwarted. 

The win adds to the team's other championship collected in 2017. That squad, led by legend A'ja Wilson, topped Mississippi State in the title game.

The Gamecocks had come close in recent years: In 2020, they were the number one team in America and the prohibitive favorite to win it all. But COVID-19 broke out across America, and the tournament was canceled, dashing that team's chances. Then last year, USC made it to the semifinal game before losing to Stanford in heartbreaking fashion in the final seconds.

For Staley, it's another mark on a illustrious career both as a player and a coach. A two-time Naismith Player of the Year at Virginia in College, she became an Olympics gold medal winner and a WNBA All-Star. After turning her hometown college of Temple into a contender, she came to USC. 

RELATED: USC's Aliyah Boston wins AP National Player of the Year Award

Since then she's won two national titles, led the team to four Final Fours and six regular season SEC titles. She's also been the Naismith National Coach of the Year twice. 

This season, she led USC (35-2) to a new program record for victories. The previous mark was 34 set back in 2014-15. 

RELATED: Aliyah Boston named Naismith Player of the Year, Staley wins Coach of the Year

Another thing that helped the Gamecocks get to a point where they could hoist a second trophy was recruiting. USC has had the top ranked class according to ESPN in two of the last three season. The first of those, in 2019, yielded much of the core of this team: Aliyah Boston, Zia Cook, Laeticia Amihere, and Bree Beal. This year's freshman class, including Saniya Rivers and Bree Hall,  is already contributing, laying the groundwork for seasons to come.

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