Women's College Basketball

Gamecocks Down Huskies, Crowned National Champions


South Carolina guard Destanni Henderson gets her teammate into position for a play during Sunday night’s National Championship game versus UConn at Target Center in Minneapolis. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine.

MINNEAPOLIS – The South Carolina Gamecocks, led by guard Destanni Henderson’s 26 points and forward Aliyah Boston’s 16 rebounds, downed the University of Connecticut Huskies 64-49 in the NCAA Women’s Basketball championship game Sunday night at Target Center in Minneapolis, earning the school it’s second national championship.

After losing out in last year’s championship game by a single point, the Gamecocks put their game faces on at the tipoff in front of an announced crowd of 18,304. Henderson opened the game with a three-pointer from the corner to get the scoring started, but fellow guard Zia Cooke scored six of her eight first-quarter points during the 13-4 opening run, which was ended with a turnaround jump shot by UConn forward Olivia Nelson-Ododa with 3:56 remaining in the first quarter.

The Gamecocks pulled down seven offensive rebounds and outscored the Huskies 9-0 in second chance points in the first quarter, which found South Carolina with an impressive 22-8 lead. The Huskies turned the ball over five times in the quarter, which would feature the fewest points in a first quarter for UConn this entire season.

Despite another Henderson three-pointer to open the second quarter and push the deficit to 17, the Huskies didn’t falter. Both teams scored 10 points midway through the quarter before UConn went on an 11-2 run of their own, featuring a floating jump shot by guard Paige Bueckers with 1:05 remaining in the half. Gamecocks guard Saniya Rivers converted one of two free throw attempts after a shooting foul on UConn guard Caroline Ducharme, which made the score 35-27 at the half. South Carolina missed 12 of their last 13 shots in the quarter.

The third quarter reverted to the style of the first quarter. Boston, Henderson and Cooke found their groove again and pushed a South Carolina 9-0 run to begin the second half. It wouldn’t be until a Bueckers floating jumper with 5:06 left before UConn would find their first points of the half.

UConn guard Evina Westbrook drives past South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston during Sunday night’s National Championship game at Target Center in Minneapolis. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine.

UConn took the opportunity to go on a 10-0 run to cut the deficit back down to six points with three-pointers by Ducharme and guard Evina Westbrook. It was 43-37 in favor of South Carolina with 1:30 left in the third quarter.

Henderson converted one of two free throws after getting fouled by Bueckers and then scored on a fast break layup in the paint after Boston rebounded a Westbrook miss. The Gamecocks led 46-37 heading into the fourth quarter.

After UConn forward Aaliyah Edwards connected on a jump shot to open the fourth quarter scoring, Henderson took control of the game scoring 13 of South Carolina’s next 16 points. The Gamecocks were comfortably ahead 59-47 with 2:59 remaining in the quarter.

If trailing all game wasn’t enough pressure, now the Huskies had the added pressure of playing against the clock if they were going to mount a final effort to get back into contention for the championship.

UConn guard Christyn Williams, who had been scoreless all game, hit her first bucket with 1:54 remaining and the Gamecocks holding a 62-49 lead. However, UConn missed six of their last seven shots and was unable to muster their final run.

Boston converted both free throws with 1:15 remaining in the game on a foul by Nelson-Ododa, giving her the 30th double-double of the season and the Gamecocks a 64-49 lead. It would be the final score when the horn sounded.

The University of South Carolina had now earned the 2022 NCAA Women’s Basketball National Championship. It is the second national championship in school history, the first coming in 2017.

Henderson led all scorers with a career-high 26 points with Cooke and Boston each adding 11 for the Gamecocks. Bueckers led UConn with 14.

Boston led all rebounders with 16. Bueckers led UConn with 6.

South Carolina went 22-of-60 from the field for 36.7 percent shooting, hit three three-point shots, and went 17-for-26 from the free throw line. UConn shot 40.7 percent from the field on 22-of-54 shooting, drained four three-pointers, while shooting only 1-for-4 from the free throw line.

South Carolina outrebounded UConn by a 49-24 margin. However, the Gamecocks pulled down almost as many offensive rebounds (21) as UConn pulled down total rebounds in the game (24). This led to 22-5 edge in second chance points for South Carolina.

“Just want to say UConn played an incredible game today. They cut the lead to six, and they just kept fighting and fighting and fighting, and I thought our players were really resilient, and they didn’t want to lose this so close to being National Champions. They did not want to lose this battle, so they kicked it into another gear to get it done,” said Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley in her opening statement.

With her second national championship won as a head coach, she becomes the first black head coach of Division I NCAA basketball to win more than one national championship. No other black head coach in either the men’s or women’s sports had accomplished this feat.

“What I think is important as a Black woman and coach is the way you do it, like the example that you set for other coaches to follow. I am one that respects the game. I’m not a coach that thinks because we’ve got it going on, because we’re winning, that I’m this almighty speak my opinion on things,” said Staley. “I felt a great deal of pressure to win because I’m a Black coach. Because, if we don’t win, then you bring in so many other – just scrutiny. Like you can’t coach, you had enough to get it done but yet you failed. You feel all of that, and you feel it probably 10 times more than anyone else because we’re at this platform.”

UConn guard Paige Bueckers brings the ball up the court during Sunday night’s national championship game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Target Center in Minneapolis. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine.

On the other sideline was UConn’s Geno Auriemma. In his 37th season of coaching the Huskies, he has brought his teams to the Final Four 22 times, and the championship game on 12 occasions. This is his first ever NCAA Championship game loss.

“You have to be really good, and you have to be a little bit lucky to win the National Championship. First things first, though, you have to be really good, and you have to be really well balanced and you have to be all the things that South Carolina is. You have to have good guard play. Your big guys have to be able to dominate either at one end or the other. Then you need a little bit of luck,” said Auriemma. “We said when we got here, we’re going to need a little bit of help from Stanford on Friday night, and they didn’t shoot the ball like they normally do. We were going to need a little bit of help tonight, and they didn’t cooperate.”

“The 11 times that we won, I would say – maybe all 11 but at least 10, we had the better team. We played like we were the better team, and we were well balanced and we had all the bases covered and we had everything that you needed to win a championship,” he added. “Obviously when you play in a game like this and you don’t win, it’s just incredibly difficult. To be in the locker room – I’ve been in the other locker room a lot of times, so I know what that feels like, and I’ve been in this locker room, and I know what that feels like. One team is going to be a national champion and the other team is not.”

Henderson was surprised that she hit a career-high in scoring.

“I felt like my teammates put me in a good position to score the basketball. I found open gaps and when they collapsed in the paint, Aliyah or whoever it was that was passing the ball just found me out on the perimeter, and I just let it fly,” said Henderson. “I really didn’t even know I had a career high, to be honest with you. But when people spoke about it and let me know that, it’s just even more of a blessing and just an honor to do it in this moment, a special moment that all of us is going to remember forever.”

This game was also the first time in NCAA history when two Associated Press Players of the Year ever faced each other in a championship game. UConn’s Bueckers was named the AP Player of the Year in 2021 while South Carolina’s Boston took home that honor this year. The closest two previous players of the year competed in the tournament was 2009 when North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough (2008) faced Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin (2009) in the South Regional.

South Carolina forward Aliyah Boston poses with a National Champions hat and sign following the Gamecocks victory over UConn in the National Championship game Sunday night at Target Center in Minneapolis. Photo by James C. Garman/Sportspage Magazine.

“It’s very satisfying, this goal coming into school winning a National Championship. And last year we fell short and it’s not something we can continue to hold on to, but I guess you could say now it’s in the back of our mind because we have a National Championship to hold on to,” said Boston. “Growing up when I first started playing basketball, my initial dream was just to go to college on a full scholarship. And as I started to grow older and really pay attention to basketball, it was like I want to win a National Championship and go to a school where I’m appreciated. And now looking back at that little girl, she’s probably really excited because we’ve done everything that we’ve wanted to do since we were little, and I can’t wait for the future.”

“We knew South Carolina is a very physical team. They rebound the ball extremely well. They defend really well, pressure really well. We just tried to make sure that we were back door cutting and started relieving all the pressure on offense, and just making sure the battle of the boards, nothing comes easy for them. We wanted to box out really well, push the ball in transition to get them running, get them tired. But South Carolina is a great team, they had a great game, and congratulations to them,” said Bueckers. “Last year [we] came up short in the Final Four. But now we know how to get here and how hard it is and how hard we have to work all throughout the season and how much we have to overcome. Just knowing that and the experiences of just being here, you can definitely use it to be better and to win it.”

The NCAA Women’s Basketball off-season has now begun. The players will fly home. Go back to class. Take final exams. Some will graduate. Some will recuperate from injury or just get some rest. Then starting in the fall when practices commence, we’ll begin this whole crazy journey to the 2023 Final Four and National Championship all over again. Next year the road will end in Dallas, Texas.

Recommended for you