By Laken Litman
FOX Sports activities Author
Daybreak Staley didn’t put on a Louis Vuitton jacket to lose the nationwide championship sport.
That sort of outfit seems good solely if you’re chopping down nets and holding up a trophy. Which is precisely what Staley did Sunday night time after South Carolina beat UConn 64-49 within the NCAA Girls’s Basketball closing.
This was the Gamecocks’ second nationwide title in 5 seasons, and now Staley is 2-0 in championship video games. Conversely, this was the Huskies’ first loss in a title sport ever. Heading into the matchup, Geno Auriemma’s program was a mind-boggling 11-0 in nationwide championship video games.
Now it is 11-1. UConn completed the season with six losses, probably the most this system has had since 2004-05.
“UConn shouldn’t be solely an awesome staff, they’re an awesome custom,” Staley stated. “They’re part of our girls’s basketball historical past, and you may’t actually take that away from them. However right this moment, it was divinely ordered for us to be champions right this moment. We weren’t going to be denied.”
As quickly as she obtained her arms on the trophy, Staley introduced it over to the South Carolina band to have a good time. Then, whereas standing on the victory podium, she gave a shout-out to the follow squad gamers for “accepting roles that aren’t favorable” and serving to put together the staff for this sport and each different sport earlier than it.
And this South Carolina staff actually was ready. Destanni Henderson went off, saving a career-high efficiency for her closing school sport to win a nationwide championship. The senior scored 26 factors on 9-of-20 taking pictures and went 3-of-6 from 3-point vary. She used her pace to lock down UConn star Paige Bueckers, making it extremely troublesome for Bueckers to get in a rhythm outdoors of some scoring spurts that resulted in 14 complete factors.
“We’ve been working so exhausting, and it lastly paid off,” Henderson stated.
Aliyah Boston, who was formally named nationwide participant of the yr and defensive participant of the yr only a few days in the past, was additionally named the Remaining 4’s most excellent participant after recording her thirtieth double-double of the season. She scored 11 factors with 16 rebounds and, after accepting her award on stage, took the microphone and gave a shout-out to WNBA legend Candace Parker, who was cheering her on within the crowd.
Boston had been ready for this second all yr. Final season, she missed a putback on the buzzer within the Remaining 4 towards eventual champion Stanford, and images of her crying have been all around the web. This time, because the confetti fell from the Goal Middle ceiling in Minneapolis, Boston flashed an enormous smile to the TV cameras.
“It feels superb,” Boston stated. “Actually, I’ve been enthusiastic about this since final season. Everyone had an image of me crying. Immediately, we’re nationwide champions.”
South Carolina was ranked No. 1 within the nation all season and seemed prefer it Sunday, dominating UConn in each means — on the glass, within the paint, on the free-throw line, you title it. The Gamecocks’ protection was relentless, smothering and suffocating. This was the fiftieth straight sport during which Staley’s protection held an opponent beneath its scoring common; UConn had been averaging 74.5 factors per sport.
The Gamecocks had greater than double (49) the variety of rebounds that UConn did (24), which included 21 on the offensive glass. There have been a number of instances early within the night time when South Carolina had the identical variety of rebounds as UConn had factors.
“We dominated on the glass all season,” Boston stated. “We knew it might come all the way down to rebounding.”
Bueckers, who was energized to play in entrance of her hometown Minneapolis crowd, did all the pieces she may for UConn. Nevertheless it was by no means going to be sufficient with out assist. Azzi Fudd, the No. 1 total recruit within the 2021 class who averaged 12.5 PPG as a freshman, scored three factors in 16 minutes whereas coping with a abdomen bug. Senior Christyn Williams scored two factors. She was 1-for-7 from the sphere and 0-for-3 from 3. Bueckers was the one Husky who scored in double digits, and he or she led her staff with six rebounds.
UConn’s largest deficit of the sport was 18 factors. Bueckers hit a 3 to make it a 10-point sport with 3:18 to go, however South Carolina rapidly banked a couple of free throws that ultimately put issues out of attain. Talking of free throws, South Carolina went 17-of-26 from the road, whereas UConn went 1-of-4.
When South Carolina gained its first title in 2017, Staley reduce up the web and despatched a bit to each Black feminine basketball coach within the nation. It was a practice began by Carolyn Peck — the primary Black lady to steer a staff to a title when Purdue gained in 1999 — who gave Staley a bit of her championship web in 2015. Staley stated that she saved that web in her pockets till her staff gained in 2017. And he or she needed each different Black coach to know that she sees them and desires them to attain the identical sort success.
Staley danced on the ladder with a pair of scissors as she reduce down the nets once more. What’s going to she do with all that nylon this time? We don’t know but. What we do know is that South Carolina profitable this title is critical within the sport’s historical past.
UConn hasn’t gained a title since 2016, Breanna Stewart’s senior yr. Whereas the Huskies are nonetheless a machine of a program, Auriemma is 68 years previous. Staley is 51 and will likely be teaching for a very long time. May this be a altering of the guard? The slaying of an enormous?
We don’t know that but both. However we do know that South Carolina has cemented itself as a powerhouse and will likely be for years to return.
Laken Litman covers school soccer, school basketball and soccer for FOX Sports activities. She beforehand lined school soccer, school basketball, the U.S. Girls’s Nationwide Soccer Group and the Olympics at Sports activities Illustrated, USA Immediately and The Indianapolis Star. Her first e book, written in partnership with Rizzoli and Sports activities Illustrated and titled “Sturdy Like a Lady,” will likely be printed this spring marking the fiftieth anniversary of Title IX.
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