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South Carolina isn’t intimidated by UConn’s perfect past

Apr 1, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; South Carolina Gamecocks forward Aliyah Boston (4) celebrates with teammates on the bench against the Louisville Cardinals during the second half in the Final Four semifinals of the women's college basketball NCAA Tournament at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — South Carolina coach Dawn Staley’s focus is on the UConn team that will take the floor Sunday night, not the Huskies’ incredible history of success in the title game.

The Gamecocks (34-2) will face UConn (30-5) in the women’s national championship game Sunday at the Target Center in Minneapolis. The Huskies have won all 11 of their previous national title games.

South Carolina, which won the championship in 2017 in its only title game appearance, topped Louisville 72-59 in the semifinals. Consensus national player of the year Aliyah Boston collected 23 points and 18 rebounds for the Gamecocks.

UConn, whose last title in 2016 capped a run of four consecutive championships, ousted defending champion Stanford 63-58 in the other semifinal. The Huskies won their first national title in Minneapolis in 1995.

“I think we’re going to duke it out,” Staley said. “There’s no edge. We can talk about the numbers, but the numbers give them no edge, like the numbers aren’t going to give us an edge. Our season, the great season that we had, is not going to give us an edge tomorrow. We’ve got to play it. They’ve got to play it.”

South Carolina lost to Stanford in the semifinals last season, 66-65.

In the NCAA tournament this year, the Gamecocks are holding opponents to 44.8 points per game.

“I think this game is going to come down to the intangible things,” Boston said. “The hustle plays and all the small things. I think this is going to be a great matchup.”

Boston, a 6-foot-5 junior forward, is averaging 18.0 points and 15.0 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament and has 29 double-doubles this season. All five starters scored in double figures against Louisville.

“I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that she might be the hardest person in America to guard,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “She scores if there’s one, two, three, four people on her. It doesn’t matter.”

UConn, appearing in its 14th consecutive Final Four, was bolstered by the return of Paige Bueckers, the player of the year last season as a freshman. She missed 19 games following knee surgery.

Bueckers, a high school standout at Hopkins, Minn., about 10 miles from the Target Center, had a team-high 14 points and five assists in the win over Stanford.

In UConn’s 91-87 double-overtime victory over No. 1 seed North Carolina State in the regional final, Bueckers scored 27 points, with 15 coming in the two overtimes.

“Even if she’s 70 percent, you’ve got to guard her, you’ve got to pay attention to her,” Staley said.

Bueckers and Christyn Williams each average 14.6 points. Freshman guard Azzi Fudd averages 12.5.

UConn is without 6-5 forward Dorka Juhasz, who sustained a season-ending broken wrist against North Carolina State.

The Huskies outrebounded Stanford 46-37, but South Carolina leads the nation with a 17.5 rebound margin – and 19.4 in the tournament. UConn limited Stanford to 4 of 23 from 3-point range.

South Carolina defeated UConn 73-57 in the Bahamas tournament on Nov. 22. Boston collected 22 points and 15 rebounds for the Gamecocks, who held the Huskies to three points in the fourth quarter. Bueckers scored 19 for UConn.

“I don’t think I’ve won one national championship and I don’t think Dawn’s going to win any, either,” Auriemma said. “I think her team has a great chance to win a national championship, and I think my team has a chance to win a national championship.”

–By Jim Hoehn, Field Level Media