NCAA women’s basketball: South Carolina Gamecocks defeats UConn Huskies, consolidates as No. 1 in ranking

NCAA women's basketball: South Carolina Gamecocks defeats UConn Huskies, consolidates as No. 1 in ranking

The South Carolina women’s basketball team established itself as No. 1 in the rankings and earned its first victory in a match between the # 1 team vs. # 2 on Monday, defeating UConn 73-57 in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game in the Bahamas.

Monday’s noon (ET) game delayed voting in the Associated Press poll, so the Gamecocks will remain at the top when the rankings are announced Tuesday. Voting for the poll typically takes place on Sunday when the rankings are revealed on Monday, but the Gamecocks-Huskies duel made it all worthwhile.

“I’m super proud,” Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said. “They work hard, they believe in each other. We have to improve mentally; that’s the separation between good and excellent teams.”

Maybe, but the Gamecocks – especially in the second half – already looked pretty great. They limited the Huskies to 0 points in the final five minutes of the game and scored more than UConn 40-21 in the second half, including 16-3 in the fourth quarter.

“We knew exactly what we had to do, especially on the defensive end of the ball,” Staley said. “We had to alter. UConn is well-oiled machinery. If you let them run their things, they’ve made teams look stupid.”

Third-year pole player Aliyah Boston led South Carolina with 22 points and 15 rebounds. Gamecocks guards Zia Cooke and Destanni Henderson combined for 32 points, seven assists and eight steals.

“It’s time for Aliyah Boston to be the dominant player that she is,” Staley said of the candidate for National Player of the Year.

Meanwhile, another candidate for that honor, sophomore guard Paige Bueckers led UConn with 19 points, but only six of them came in the second half.

“I don’t think he played well today, to be honest,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma. “In the first half, she had a lot of great moments. But throughout the second half, I don’t think she was a factor at all. I don’t know if she got tired, she was exhausted. But she wasn’t the same Paige we used to see.

“Part of that comes from, we need another escort out there who can take outside shots. She didn’t get enough help.”

South Carolina, which started the season at No. 1, had been 0-4 in previous No. 1 vs. No. 2, with three of those losses to UConn. This was also the Gamecocks’ second win over the series-leading Huskies, 9-2.

UConn has played in more 1-2 matchups than any other men’s or women’s program in college basketball history. The Huskies are now 22-4 in those games. But in a two-team Final Four matchup last season, South Carolina showed more poise down the stretch.

The Gamecocks trailed by as much as 13 points in the first half, but enthusiastically came out of the break and took control of the game in the third quarter, scoring more than the Huskies, 24-18.

South Carolina led 57-54 after three quarters. That they scored 13 more points than UConn in the fourth quarter tied for the Huskies’ worst point differential in the last quarter since women’s basketball switched to quarterfinals in 2015-16. Baylor scored more than them 19-6 in the fourth quarter of a January 2020 loss to the Bears.

On Monday, the Huskies shot 1-for-10 from the field in the fourth quarter.

“The combination of his defensive pressure in the fourth quarter and our inability to handle that pressure is basically the game,” Auriemma said. “For 30 minutes, I thought we were very good. The last 10 minutes, they were better than us … defensively, offensively, bouncing the ball. They are the better team than us right now. A little deeper “.

South Carolina won the battle on the boards 41-26, and had 14 turnovers compared to 19 for UConn.

“We don’t want lows; we don’t want lapses,” Staley said of what the Gamecocks can learn from the win. “We have a chance to face them again. So I’m sure there will be a lot of adjustments on both sides of the ball for them and for us.

“But I’m just happy for our players who had the determination to focus and win the basketball game.”

The rematch between the teams will be in South Carolina on January 27 (ESPN, 7 pm ET).

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