South Carolina claimed its second Women’s Basketball National Championship with a 64-49 victory over UConn in Minneapolis, Minn., Sunday. Destanni Henderson provided the firepower, scoring a game-high 26 points and dishing out four assists. On the defensive end, the Gamecocks smothered UConn, limiting the Huskies to 30% shooting in the second half and winning the battle of the boards 49-24. It was the second largest rebounding advantage (25) in NCAA Women’s Championship Game history. But that statistic only reveals a portion of the story. USC (35-2) was able to create second shot opportunities time and again thanks to 21 offensive rebounds.
UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said, “We knew coming in if we didn’t hold our own on the boards it was going to be a bad night for us and that’s what happened … I told Dawn after the game they’re the best team in the country. They were the best team tonight and they were the best team in the country when they beat us in the Bahamas (Nov. 22nd, 73-57).”
Few would disagree with Auriemma’s assessment as USC went wire-to-wire as the nation’s top-ranked team, winning six NCAA Tournament games by an average of 23.3 points.
With the Huskies defense focused on slowing down All-American Aliyah Boston, the cat-quick Henderson exploited the strategy, scoring a career high. Even with UConn collapsing in the paint, Boston still managed 11 points and 16 rebounds. Zia Cooke (11 points) joined Henderson and Boston in double figures.
USC’s defense set the tone early, forcing five UConn turnovers in the first quarter and racing out to a 22-8 lead. The Huskies fought back, closing the gap to six behind an 8-0 third-quarter run. But Henderson had the answer, stretching the lead back to nine on a free throw and a layup in transition to close out the period. South Carolina’s defense didn’t allow UConn to mount a crunch time threat.
Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley said of Henderson, “You want your seniors to finish their career the way Henny ended hers. Not just about the national championship, but growth. We’ll always remember this performance. Whatever team in the WNBA gets her is getting a low maintenance, high performer.”
Despite the lopsided final, the Huskies converted as many field goals as South Carolina. But the Gamecocks aggressiveness paid off in extra possessions and trips to the foul line. USC made 17 of its 26 free throws (65%) while UConn hit just 1 of 4.
UConn, the longtime gold standard in the sport, looked overmatched at times against the newly crowned champions. The Huskies had been 11-0 in title game opportunities before running up against the USC buzz saw, Sunday. Dawn Staley and South Carolina have firmly established themselves as an elite national force, winning a title in 2017 and finishing the 2020 season at no. 1 (no postseason tournament due to COVID) before laying claim to the 2022 Championship.