Minneapolis – Don Staley raised the championship trophy high, rolled on the field and stopped for a short victory dance. She handed over the equipment to the South Carolina student team and then returned to the middle of the court for more fun.

The Gamecocks hit all the right notes this season and they ended up being a masterpiece.

Staley’s team stopped in defense and dominated the glass, beating UConn 64-49 on Sunday night to end Husky’s unbeaten run in the title games. Destiny Henderson scored a career-high 26 points, Alia Boston added 11 points and 16 rebounds, and the Gamecocks handed over Jenny Auriema’s Husky to their first defeat in 12 NCAA title games.

NCAA Women's Basketball: Championship Final Four
South Carolina Gamecocks forward Alia Boston celebrates on the court after defeating the UConn Huskies in the final of the four NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament at the Target Center in Minneapolis on April 3, 2022.

Matt Crohn-USA TODAY Sports

“We played in every possession as if it were our last possession,” said Staley, the first coach of black men or women with two titles in Division I. “They decided to become champions today.”

A year ago South Carolina lost in the final four when Boston missed the bench in front of the horn.

“Honestly, I’ve been thinking about it since last season. Everyone had a photo of me crying, ”said Boston, who was the most outstanding Final Four player. “Today we are the champions of the country and I am in tears.”

It was UConn’s first trip to the championship since 2016, when the Huskies won the last of four titles in a row. Since then, the team has suffered emotional defeats in the national semifinals, losing twice in overtime, before playing at Stanford on Friday night. The Huskies were trying to win their 12th title in the same city where they won their first in 1995.

While Staley performed in a Louis Vuitton Letterman jacket, South Carolina took UConn to school on blackboards and completed a run of wires as Team № 1 in the country in an Associated Press poll. The Gamecocks also won the 2017 championship with Ajay Wilson.

NCAA Women's Basketball: Championship Final Four
South Carolina Gamecoks head coach Don Staley cuts the net as they celebrate a 64-49 victory over the UConn Huskies in the NCAA Women’s Four Basketball Championship Finals at the Target Center in Minneapolis on April 3, 2022.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This time it was Boston – AP Player of the Year – and her South Carolina counterparts who dominated the game’s biggest stage. Gamecocks outscored UConn 49-24, including a 21-6 advantage on offensive boards.

“We knew tonight that if we didn’t stick to the boards, it would be a very bad night for us,” Auriema said. – And that’s exactly what happened.

They also pinned star Paige Bookers and Huskies in defense, as they did all season.

“They deserved it 100%,” Auriema said. “They were the best team of the year.”

It was a night in South Carolina from the beginning. The Gamecocks (35-2) jumped to 11-2, capturing almost every rebound at both ends of the floor. They led to 22-8 after one quarter, much to the delight of their fans who traveled to Minneapolis to be part of the sold-out.

UConn (30-6) trailed by 16 in the second quarter before Minnesota-born Bookers began running. After just one throw in the first quarter she scored nine points in the second to get the Huskies in the 35-27 half on half. She graduated from 14.

A series of 8-2 early in the third quarter led South Carolina to 43-29 before the Huskies finally began to connect because of the arc. UConn missed their first eight 3-point attempts until Caroline Duchamp made one of the flanks and Evina Westbrook followed the second to get the Huskies in the 43-37 range.

It’s as close as they could be because of Henderson.

The senior guard held a three-point game to close the third quarter and then scored the team’s first four points in the fourth to regain the double-digit lead. The Huskies were unable to recover.

“My teammates believed in me again. We worked so hard from day one, and it finally paid off, all my hard work, all my concentration,” Henderson said. “I trust the process. I trust God. She just put me in a position to just be great and today we are national champions.”

Auriema said on Saturday that when his team won each of the 11 titles, the Huskies entered the game as the best team. Of course, they were not there on Sunday.

“We just didn’t have enough,” he said. “They were too good for us.”

It was one of the most challenging seasons in Auriema’s career at the Hall of Fame. UConn has overcome the loss of eight players in at least two games due to injury or illness, including Bookers, who missed nearly three months due to a left knee injury sustained in early December. She returned in late February, but was not at the level that brought her AP Player of the Year last season.

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