South Carolina dominates UConn in a ‘national championship’ style game
HARTFORD, Conn. — The South Carolina No. 1 picked up the program’s first victory in Connecticut over No. 5 UConn on Sunday as the defending national champion posted an 81-77 victory on national television for remain undefeated.
Unlike their last encounter in last year’s national title game, where the Gamecocks easily beat the Huskies, 64-49, for their second championship, Sunday’s game was much more competitive. The Huskies led by 11 early, South Carolina took the lead by 12 late, then UConn fought back to keep it within two possessions in the final minutes in an atmosphere that South Carolina coach Dawn Staley , described as “similar to a national championship”.
“It was a great atmosphere,” Aliyah Boston of South Carolina, the reigning National Player of the Year, said of the crowd of 15,564, the first sold-out event at the XL Center since 2017. It was almost like we were back in the tournament. I just felt like there were so many people and a big crowd, which is really, really nice.”
“It was a great game for college women’s basketball,” she said.
South Carolina has now won four of its last five meetings against UConn. The Gamecocks are hoping to become the first team to repeat as champions since the Huskies did from 2013-16, and also become the fifth program with at least three national titles.
Games like Sunday’s, according to Staley, can only contribute to that long-term vision.
“I want us to feel what it takes to make us feel [in the NCAA tournament]”Staley said. “It’s going to take that kind of effort and attention to detail, and the crowd might not be in our favor, but we have to lock ourselves in.”
Boston – the presumptive No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft this year – shone with 26 points (23 after halftime) and 11 rebounds while junior Kamilla Cardoso was a game changer off the bench, finishing with 17 points and 11 rebounds. UConn junior Aaliyah Edwards had an exhibition game with a team-high 25 points, while grad student Lou Lopez Senechal added 19.
It was all UConn in the first quarter, where the Huskies outscored the Gamecocks 25-14. But then South Carolina took control before halftime, at which point the two teams were tied at 34.
“Kamilla. Kamilla was the switch,” Boston said of the first and second period difference.
UConn led South Carolina overall with 51.9% to 38.8% from the field, but the Gamecocks made up for it by beating the Huskies on the boards 42-30, using 25 offensive rebounds to score 25 points from second chance. Cardoso has a lot to do with this effort, with nine catches on the attacking glass alone.
It was only a regular season meeting, but tensions were running high as the game went to the wire. With South Carolina up six and just under four minutes to play, UConn coach Geno Auriemma planted a water bottle on the ground as he was upset that no foul was n was inflicted on the Lopez Senechal defender, which he later admitted was a “stupid mistake on my part”.
The Huskies went from six to ten as a result. Another technical was issued with less than 90 seconds remaining when Cardoso was bowled over by a foul and slammed the ball under the basket. As UConn shot less than four and then three in the final 30 seconds, South Carolina made enough free throws to wrap up with a win.
It was the fourth time this season that the Gamecocks had won 23-0 after trailing in double figures, with three such instances against ranked teams.
The Huskies, who have been shorthanded most of the season, faced six players for over a minute. 1 overall rookie of 2021 Azzi Fudd has been out most of the year with a knee injury, while second Caroline Ducharme has been sidelined this calendar year in due to a concussion. 2020-21 National Player of the Year Paige Bueckers and rookie Ice Brady were injured in preseason and are out for the year. Ducharme could return as soon as this coming week, while Fudd has no timetable for his return.
Behind the standout days of Cardoso and redshirt rookie Raven Johnson, the South Carolina bench beat UConn 37-0, showcasing the team’s brand depth that arguably made the This year’s team even more powerful than last season’s.
Auriemma said his team needed to go over 3s (2 for 6) to follow the Gamecocks on the glass and ultimately win, but was proud of his team’s fight; UConn’s 4-point margin of loss was the narrowest of any South Carolina opponent this season.
“I feel better at 3 a.m. today than at 12 p.m.,” said Auriemma, whose team fell to 21-3 this season. “Because at 12 o’clock I really didn’t know how we would react. … I know more now than at 12 o’clock and I feel better in my team. … I felt good in my team before , but I feel really good with them right now.”
And if UConn succeeds, it won’t be the last time they face the Gamecocks this season.
“We wanted to come out of this game with a win,” Lopez Senechal said, “but we know we’ll face them again and we’ll get the win.”