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South Carolina earns title, hands UConn first championship game loss

Apr 3, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks guard Zia Cooke (1) drives to the basket against UConn Huskies guard Evina Westbrook (22) during the first half in the Final Four championship game of the women's college basketball NCAA Tournament at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Destanni Henderson scored a career-high 26 points and Aliyah Boston added 11 points and 16 rebounds to lead South Carolina past UConn 64-49 in the women’s national championship game Sunday night at Minneapolis, the Huskies’ first loss in 12 title game appearances.

South Carolina (35-2) also won in its only other title game appearance in 2017. UConn (30-6), appearing in its 14th consecutive Final Four, was bidding for its first title since 2016, which capped a streak of four straight championships.

Henderson scored eight points in an 11-2 run that put the Gamecocks in front 57-41 with 4:18 remaining. The senior guard hit 9 of 20 shots, including 3 of 6 from beyond the arc, and dished out four assists.

Boston, the consensus player of the year, led South Carolina to a commanding 49-24 rebound advantage with her 30th double-double of the season.

Paige Bueckers, a high school star at nearby Hopkins, Minn., had 14 points for UConn. Bueckers, the player of the year last season as a freshman, hit 6 of 13 shots and had a team-high six rebounds. She missed 19 games this season with a knee injury.

South Carolina led by 18 early in the second quarter but saw UConn rally within 35-27 at the half. The Gamecocks opened the third quarter with an 8-0 run to push the lead to 43-27.

Caroline Ducharme and Evina Westbrook hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cap a 10-point run that cut the lead to 43-37. The Gamecocks led 46-37 entering the final period.

South Carolina led 22-8 after one quarter and stretched it to 30-12 on Henderson’s 3-pointer. Bueckers, who missed her only shot in the first period, scored nine points in the second quarter.

South Carolina had a 25-13 edge on the glass in the first half, including 16 offensive rebounds for a 17-2 advantage in second-chance points.

The Gamecocks dominated inside immediately, opening an 11-2 lead behind seven second-chance points.

South Carolina hit 10 of 20 shots in the opening period, along with a 12-3 edge on the boards. The Gamecocks also forced five turnovers, while committing none.

South Carolina, which also defeated UConn 73-57 in November, lost its two games this season by a combined three points.

–By Jim Hoehn, Field Level Media