All season the South Carolina Gamecocks looked the part of the best team in women’s college basketball.
Boasting a 34-2 record with wins over ranked opponents in N.C. State, Oregon, UConn, Maryland, Duke, Stanford, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss, UGA and Tennessee, the Gamecocks left no doubt who the favorite was entering March Madness.
Dawn Staley’s team has extended that dominance into the NCAA Tourney with double-digit wins in every round, including a 72-59 thrashing of a solid Louisville team in the Final Four.
Now South Carolina, the latest powerhouse in women’s college hoops, will face perennial title contender UConn in the national championship game on Sunday at the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Staley is looking for her second national championship and first since 2017, when she became the second Black woman to win a Division I basketball national championship. Purdue’s Carolyn Peck was the first in 1999.
In October of 2021 South Carolina blessed Staley with the most lucrative contract in woman’s basketball history.
She’s going to have to earn every penny against the Huskies, who are once again in the ultimate game, despite what head coach Geno Auriemma called the most “trying season of his career.”
Despite his team’s impressive record (30-5), they’ve had some real adversity.
However, in typical Huskies fashion they’ve overcome all obstacles, injuries to key players and setbacks, and are just 40 minutes away from an incomparable 12th national title in 12 title game appearances.
Considered one of the most influential woman hoopers of all-time, South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley is used to breaking ground and elevating women’s college basketball. She was a pioneer as a star at Virginia and as a gold medal-winning Olympic player and then broke the glass ceiling by becoming the first Black Olympic women’s coach.
“I know our fans always enjoy the UConn game, and our team enjoys the rivalry. But I have always said that out conference season, and especially our goal of another SEC Championship is more central to our program.”
Dawn Staley And Her Gamecocks Were Suppose To Be Here: Boston Is Dominant
Led by dominant center Aliyah Boston, who was recently named Naismith Player of the Year and Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, the Gamecocks have been virtually unbeatable. A one-point upset loss at Missouri and a two-point loss to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament final are the only blemishes.
While South Carolina’s emphasis on defensive grit has led to sporadic struggles on the offensive end, the one constant has been Boston and her All-America post play.
At times many of her teammates have stood and watched her work instead of getting involved in the flow of the offense.
This wasn’t the case in the national semifinal win over Louisville. Guards Zia Cooke, Destanni Henderson and Brea Beal all scored in double figures while looking decisive and prepared to shoot when the basketball was swung or kicked out. Staley will be looking for that same type of play against Auriemma’s squad.
Geno Auriemma Is In 22nd Final Four: He’s Never Lost A Title Game
Geno Auriemma has won 11 national titles going in 11 title game appearances. The Huskies maestro is in his 22nd Final Four and 14th straight.
They’re the flagship program in WCBB, and have been since the early 2000s when they first laid claim to a title of dominance previously held by the late, great Pat Summitt and her Tennessee Volunteers.
Remarkably, Auriemma has rarely landed the No. 1 recruiting class but has still had immense success.
In 2020 and 2021 he landed the nation’s No. 1 overall recruits in Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd. Those two elite talents are the cornerstone of this year’s team, and while both have missed significant time with injuries this season, they’re rolling in March and leading the way in the tourney.
The Huskies have also gotten quality production from their post players Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Aliyah Edwards.
Regional final wins over favorites N.C. State and 2021 champion Stanford once again showed why you never bet against an Auriemma-coached team.
The key for the Huskies still lies in Evina Westbrook and senior combo guard Christian Williams. When they make wise decisions and limit turnovers the Huskies are tough to beat.
UConn Will Battle But It Won’t Be Enough: Staley Gets Her Second National Title
In what should be a competitive game, UConn will battle, but if South Carolina plays through Boston as it has all season it’ll be fine.
Auriemma holds an 8-2 advantage over Staley, but she’s won two of the past three matchups with Geno. Only one of those matchups have happened in NCAA Tournament play, a 2018 regional final win for UConn.
This is Dawn Staley’s time to grab another title after losing to Stanford on the controversial ending last season. And having the 2020 tourney canceled due to COVID-19, when South Carolina was clearly the favorite.
After five long seasons, the Gamecocks are in prime position to cut down the nets again in Minneapolis and spoil UConn freshman sensation Paige Bueckers’ Final Four homecoming.