MINNEAPOLIS — One year after a heartbreaking loss in the Final Four to eventual champion Stanford, No. 1 seed South Carolina found redemption, earning the program’s second national championship with a 64-49 victory over 2-seed UConn on Sunday at Minneapolis’ Target Center.
The Gamecocks, who went 14-0 against teams ranked in the Associated Press top 25 this season, became the eighth program to win multiple national titles in NCAA women’s basketball history, joining UConn (11), Tennessee (8), Stanford (3), Baylor (3), Notre Dame (2), USC (2) and Louisiana Tech (2).
South Carolina is also the 12th team to go wire-to-wire as No. 1 in the AP poll and win it all.
South Carolina’s 35 wins are the most in a single season in program history; seven of them were over national championship-winning coaches, and two were over UConn’s Geno Auriemma, as the Gamecocks had previously beaten the Huskies 73-57 on Nov. 22 in the Bahamas.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley is also now 2-0 in NCAA national championship games after leading her squad past Mississippi State for the 2017 title.
After going 11-0 in his previous national championship appearances, Auriemma was handed his first loss in the title game.
The Huskies, whose 11 titles are tied for the most in Division I basketball, are still in search of their first title since taking home four straight from 2013-16. Their five straight NCAA tournaments without a championship is the longest the program has gone since earning its first title in 1995.
National player of the year Aliyah Boston finished with 11 points and 16 rebounds, which allowed the Gamecocks to demolish the Huskies on the boards 49-24. Guard Destanni Henderson came out with a career-high 26 points to go along with four assists, two rebounds and a tough defensive effort against 2020-21 national player of the year Paige Bueckers.
Henderson’s 3 22 seconds into Sunday’s game gave the Gamecocks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
South Carolina started hot, scoring 13 of the game’s first 15 points and jumping out to a 30-12 advantage early in the second quarter off a Henderson 3. UConn eventually settled in, using a 15-5 run to cut the deficit to as few as seven and then 35-27 entering halftime. Top-ranked 2021 recruit Azzi Fudd played just five minutes in the first half for UConn after dealing with a stomach bug heading into the game.
South Carolina got going early once more after the break, pulling back ahead by 16 midway through the third off a Cooke layup. Then the Huskies rattled off a 10-0 run, featuring their first 3s of the game, to make it a 43-37 affair. The Gamecocks scored the final three points of the frame, and six of the first eight of the fourth, to cushion their lead. Fudd’s and Bueckers’ 3s made it a 10-point game with 3:18 to play, but they wouldn’t be able to pull any closer.