S.C. women top UConn, solidify hold on No. 1

The South Carolina women’s basketball team solidified its hold on the No. 1 ranking and got its first victory in a 1 vs. 2 matchup on Monday, defeating UConn 73-57 in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game in the Bahamas.

The noon ET game Monday pushed The Associated Press poll voting back a day, so the Gamecocks will remain in the top spot when the rankings come out Tuesday. Poll voting is normally on Sunday with the rankings released on Monday, but the Gamecocks-Huskies showdown made it worth waiting for.

“I’m super proud,” Gamecocks coach Dawn Staley said. “They work hard, they believe in each other. We’ve got to get better mentally; that’s the separation from good to great teams.”

Perhaps, but the Gamecocks — especially in the second half — looked pretty great already. They held the Huskies scoreless for the final five minutes of the game and outscored UConn 40-21 in the second half, including 16-3 in the fourth quarter.

“We knew exactly what we had to do, especially on the defensive side of the ball,” Staley said. “We had to disrupt. UConn is a well-oiled machine. If you allow them to just run their stuff, they’ve made teams look stupid.”

Junior post player Aliyah Boston led South Carolina with 22 points and 15 rebounds. Gamecocks guards Zia Cooke and Destanni Henderson combined for 32 points, seven assists and eight steals.

“It’s time for Aliyah Boston to be the dominant player she is,” Staley said of the national player of the year candidate.

Meanwhile, another candidate for that honor, sophomore guard Paige Bueckers, led UConn with 19 points, but only six came in the second half.

“I don’t think she was any good today, to be honest with you,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “The first half, there were a lot of great moments that she had. But for the entire second half, I don’t think she was much of a factor. I don’t know whether she just got tired, she was worn down. But it wasn’t the same Paige we’re used to seeing.

“Some of that comes from, we need another guard out there that can make outside shots. She just didn’t get enough help.”

South Carolina, which began the season in the No. 1 spot, had been 0-4 in previous No. 1 vs. No. 2 games, with three of those losses to UConn. This also was the Gamecocks’ second victory against the Huskies, who lead the series 9-2.

UConn has played in more 1-2 matchups than any program, women’s or men’s, in college hoops history. The Huskies are now 22-4 in those games. But in a matchup of two Final Four teams from last season, South Carolina showed the most poise down the stretch.

The Gamecocks were down by as much as 13 points in the first half, but they came out on fire after the break and took control of the game in the third quarter, when they outscored the Huskies 24-18.

South Carolina led 57-54 after three quarters. UConn being outscored by 13 in the fourth quarter tied for the Huskies’ worst point differential in the final period since women’s basketball went to quarters in 2015-16. They were outscored by Baylor 19-6 in the fourth quarter of a January 2020 loss to the Bears.

Monday, the Huskies were 1-of-10 from the field in the fourth quarter.

“The combination of their defensive pressure in the fourth quarter and our inability to handle that pressure is basically the game,” Auriemma said. “For 30 minutes, I thought we were really good. The last 10 minutes, they were better than us … defensively, offensively, rebounding the ball. They’re the better team than us right now. A little deeper.”

South Carolina won the rebounding battle 41-26, and it had 14 turnovers to UConn’s 19.

“We don’t want any slippage, we don’t want lapses,” Staley said of what the Gamecocks take away from the victory. “We get a chance to play them again. So I’m sure there will be a lot of adjustments made on both sides of the ball for them and for us.

“But I’m just happy for our players who were determined enough to just focus and win the basketball game.”

The rematch between the teams will be at South Carolina on Jan. 27 (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET).

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