The South Carolina Gamecocks are national champions once again. On Sunday night in Minneapolis, South Carolina held off UConn in a low-scoring game, 64-49, to claim the second title in school history. This was the first loss in a national championship game for UConn, which had been undefeated in 11 previous appearances. Aliyah Boston was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player.
On the very first possession of the game, Destanni Henderson hit a 3-pointer to give South Carolina the lead, and they never let it go. It took just four minutes and 44 seconds for them to build a double-digit lead, and they were up 22-8 after the first quarter. While UConn, as expected, made a few runs here and there to hang around, they never seriously threatened to take the lead. By the final few minutes of the fourth quarter, the celebration was officially on for South Carolina.
Henderson led the way for the Gamecocks with 26 points, four assists and three steals. This was the highest-scoring game of her collegiate career, and it could not have come at a better time. Boston, the Naismith Player of the Year, finished with 11 points, 16 rebounds and two blocks. South Carolina's dominance on the offensive glass -- 21 offensive rebounds -- was a major factor in the result.
Paige Bueckers led UConn with 14 points and six rebounds. She was the only player on the Huskies to finish in double figures.
2022 Women's NCAA Basketball Championship
All times Eastern | NCAA Tournament schedule
|(1) South Carolina 64, (2) UConn 59||National Championship Game|
Here are some key takeaways from the game:
Henderson delivers biggest performance of her career
With so much talent on this South Carolina team, it was hard at times for players not named Aliyah Boston to stand out. That was not the case on Sunday night, however, as senior guard Destanni Henderson delivered the biggest performance of her career on the biggest stage.
Henderson drained a 3-pointer from the corner on the first possession of the game, then assisted on two more buckets over the next few minutes to help the Gamecocks build an early double-digit advantage. They would never relinquish that lead, thanks in large part to Henderson's impressive play on both ends of the floor.
She finished with a career-high 26 points on 9 of 20 from the field, four assists and three steals. On a night where South Carolina struggled to find offense at times, Henderson was a steadying presence. She either scored or assisted on 13 of the team's 22 made field goals. On the other end, her defense was a key factor in limiting UConn to just 49 points on 40.7 percent shooting.
"My teammates trusted in me," Henderson said. "I feel like since Day One we've been putting in the hard work and waiting for this moment and tonight I just found open shots."
For her play, not just in the national championship but throughout the tournament, Henderson was named to the 2022 NCAA All-Tournament Team.
Boston named Most Outstanding Player
Naismith Player of the Year Aliyah Boston had been dominant in the tournament, and was coming off a 23-point, 18-rebound performance against Louisville in the Final Four. UConn, understandably, did not want that to happen again, and devoted all sorts of defensive attention to South Carolina's star.
To that specific end, they were successful. Boston's eight field goal attempts were tied for her second fewest this season, and her 11 points were tied for her fourth fewest. It didn't matter. Boston still had a huge impact on the game, and recorded her 30th double-double on the season with 11 points, 16 rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
And none of those stats take into account how she wore out UConn's defenders, who had to battle her on the block and on the glass all game long. Or how the attention UConn paid to her opened things up for other players like Henderson. Or how her defensive presence helped limit UConn to one of its worst offensive games all season.
It feels amazing," Boston said. "Honestly, I've been thinking of this since last season because everyone had a picture of me crying at the end of the Final Four and they put it everywhere. But today we're national champions and... happy tears. Happy tears. If you guys want a smile, here you go. And we're national champions."
In addition to being named to the 2022 NCAA All-Tournament Team, Boston was also named Final Four Most Outstanding Player. She is the first South Carolina player to earn that honor since A'ja Wilson in 2017.
Staley, South Carolina make history
Throughout the tournament, so much had been made about UConn's historic accomplishments -- 28 consecutive Sweet 16s, 14 consecutive Final Fours, a record 11 national championships, an undefeated record in national championship games. On Sunday night, it was Dawn Staley and South Carolina's turn to take the spotlight and make some history of their own.
Here are just a few of the feats that Staley and Co. accomplished:
- South Carolina became the eighth program to win multiple national championships
- Dawn Staley became the first black head coach in Division I history (men or women) to win multiple national championships
- South Carolina became the 12th program to go wire-to-wire as the No. 1 ranked team and win the national championship
- South Carolina became the first team to defeat UConn in a national championship game
At the beginning of the season, Staley signed a historic contract extension worth $22.4 million over seven years. South Carolina's performance on Sunday, and over the past six months, showed she's worth every penny, if not more. She has firmly established herself as one of the best coaches in the country, and just might be building a dynasty of her own in Columbia.
With number of key players from this team, including Boston, coming back next season, the Gamecocks will be favorites to win it all again. There's a long way to go until then, of course, but if South Carolina will have a real chance to become the first team since UConn (2013-2016) to repeat as champions.