It was Destanni.
The 40th National Championship game of the NCAA Division-I Tournament since it’s inception in the 1981-82 season was decided last night. The South Carolina Gamecocks defeated the University of Connecticut Huskies 64-49 in front of almost 19,000 fans at Target Center in Minneapolis, MN.
Two programs with unmatched history
Geno Auriemma became the University of Connecticut’s (UConn’s) women’s head basketball coach in 1985 and proceeded to lead the team to every NCAA Tournament since their first appearance in 1989. During that time, the team appeared in 22 Final Fours and 11 Championship games, winning them all. The 2021-22 championship would have been their 12th in school history; however, it became their first loss in the National Championship game, ever. UConn’s last title came during a four-year streak from 2013-2016. Last night’s game was not the first time UConn faced South Carolina this season. The two teams played in November on UConn’s homecourt, where they lost 73-57. They went on to lose four more games, which is the most losses for a UConn team since the 2004-05 season.
Dawn Staley became the University of South Carolina’s women’s head basketball coach in 2008 after coaching at Temple University from 2000-2008. Prior to coach, Dawn Staley was a collegiate basketball player as well for the University of Viriginia before being drafted 9th overall in the 1999 WNBA draft. South Carolina has been to 4 Final Fours all time and all under Staley along with two championship games – both of which they won (2017; 2022). With their win Sunday night, they join the short-list of women’s basketball programs with multiple championships – only 7 programs, now 8, have multiple championships. South Carolina was also #1 in the country during the COVID-19 season, 2 years ago – a season of “What if” where they possibly could have made a run to win that championship, too.
Here’s how it happened…
First Half – The first quarter saw South Carolina come out strongly. Between their defense all over UConn and the number of boards they grabbed, South Carolina was up 22-8. The Gamecocks were able to hold the Huskies to the lowest scoring quarter they had all year, just 8 points. During the between quarter’s break, the Huskies had one item they needed to focus on – rebounding – because South Carolina had out rebounded them 12-3 in the quarter, with 7 of those offensive rebounds leading to 9 second-chance points. The second quarter saw UConn strike back. The Huskies outscored the Gamecocks 19-13 to close the gap. During the first half, UConn trailed by as much as 18 points.
Going hard in the paint. Spin, shoot and score from @aa_boston to end the quarter 🏀 ! #NationalChampionship X 🎥 @espn pic.twitter.com/JSTPMW5bZO
— NCAA March Madness (@MarchMadnessWBB) April 4, 2022
Although UConn was exceeding their season average field goal percentage of 47.9% – shooting 54.2%, they still found themselves trailing. They only had 13 total rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, 4 blocks to go along with 9 turnovers and 7 fouls. South Carolina, on the other hand, was shooting 36.6% from field-goal range but had 25 total rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, 4 turnovers, and 3 fouls. They were well on their way to reaching their season average of 47.8 rebounds per game, leading to second chance points.
Second Half – The third quarter saw both teams coming out of the locker rooms ready to challenge the other. Only 21 total points were scored during this quarter, 11-10 South Carolina. UConn had reduced the lead to only 6 during this quarter but with 5 turnovers, they weren’t able to close it more than that. They were able to challenge South Carolina on the boards, only giving up 3 offensive rebounds this quarter. UConn continued to work hard to close the scoring gap; however, it proved to be too much to overcome leading to South Carolina to win by 15 points.
NATIONAL CHAMPIONS pic.twitter.com/oVbqLXLhmr
— GamecockWBB (@GamecockWBB) April 4, 2022
Final Game Stats
UConn averaged 74.5 points per game this season, but they didn’t break 50 in the championship game, mostly due to South Carolina’s denying defense and aggressive rebounding. The Huskies shot lower than their season averages for field goals (40.7% compared to 47.9%) three-pointers, (25% compared to 34%) and free throws (25% compared to 69.3%). The Huskies fell short of their season averages in rebounding – averaging 39 but only grabbing 24; in assisting – averaging 18 but only doing so 14 times; and in stealing – averaging 9.1 but only intercepting 4. They did exceed their blocks per game, 4.6 by blocking 5 shots, but they also exceeded their season average of 14 turnovers per game by giving the ball over 15 times.
South Carolina averaged 71.1 points per game this season and UConn’s defense need to be commended because they held them to only 64 points. Just like UConn, South Carolina didn’t shoot as well as their season averages would indicate, only making 36.7% of field goals while they normally make 42.8%. They made 18.8% of three-pointers while they normally make 30.9% and 65.4% of free throws, while they normally make 67.7%. The Gamecocks exceeded their season average in rebounding, securing 49 compared to their 47.8 average, with 21 of them being offensive, and they only turned the ball over 14 times, right on par with their season average of 14.4.
Career-high for Henderson gets SC over the line
If you’ve watching the Gamecocks all year and missed last night’s game, you’d assume Aliyah Boston was the top performer for the Gamecocks, and you’d be wrong. It really was Destanni for Gamecocks, as Destanni Henderson stole the show. She scored 26 points, a career-high for her on the biggest stage. She shot 50% from three-point range, shot 42.6% from field goal range, stole the ball 3 times, assisted 4 times, and grabbed 2 rebounds to go along with those 26 points.
🔥 @dh3so3hd chose the championship game to put up a career-high 26 points, also adding 4 assists and 3 steals.
📈 Her relentless scoring ensured @GamecockWBB took the lead and never looked back, opening an 18 point lead at its widest. #GamecockNation | #MarchMadness pic.twitter.com/Hc9KNVbtP7
— Genius Sports Report (@GSports_Report) April 4, 2022
This season of D-1 Women’s Basketball has seen some of the most outstanding basketball players we have ever seen in NCAAW Tournament history, including but not limited to, Aliyah Boston, Caitlin Clark, Paige Bueckers, Oliva Miles, Maddy Siegrist, Tamari Key, and so many more.
This season has also seen a new NCAA Tournament set-up, new at least to the women’s teams. The expansion to 68 teams; the First Four; the open practice before the Championship game; and more to bring equity to women’s basketball. We were able to see Cinderella stories with Creighton and South Dakota; close nail-biters like UConn’s double overtime win against NC State; and great storylines, like the women on the South Carolina team who have their Championship now, for themselves and for the players from the 2019-2020 season who couldn’t have a post-season to play in.
Although the season may have come to an end Sunday night, this is just the beginning for Women’s Collegiate Basketball, and I for one am already looked forward to what next season will hold.