UConn-South Carolina title tilt packs plenty of star power

MINNEAPOLIS — The South Carolina Gamecocks held the highest spot within the Associated Press Top 25 ladies’s ballot all season about as tightly as they play protection each night time.

The final take a look at for the No. 1 general seed on this 12 months’s NCAA Tournament would be the Connecticut Huskies, who produced a lockdown defensive efficiency of their very own to achieve the nationwide championship.

Aliyah Boston exhibiting who’s the boss within the paint, and Paige Bueckers slithering across the perimeter. Dawn Staley on one bench, and Geno Auriemma on the opposite. South towards North.

Women’s school basketball will get the greats of the sport collectively on the most important stage as persistently as any sport, and this South Carolina-UConn matchup shall be no totally different.

The Gamecocks (34-2) toppled Louisville 72-59 within the first semifinal at Target Center on Friday night time, behind 23 factors and 18 rebounds from Boston, the newly minted AP Player of the Year.

“With the awards, I’m really blessed, but my main focus is bringing home a national championship,” Boston stated. “I’m just really locked in on that.”

After lacking a close-range putback on the buzzer in a one-point loss to Stanford within the Final Four final season, Boston bounced proper again this 12 months.

“We knew this was a new team,” Boston stated. “We have a lot more depth.”

The Gamecocks have been a staff on a mission.

“It’s a relief right now, and it feels great. But we’re going to take in this moment, and we’re not done yet, so we still have unfinished business,” stated Destanni Henderson, who hit three 3-pointers on Friday.

UConn (30-5) took care of the defending champion Cardinal, outlasting Stanford 63-58 within the second recreation. Bueckers had 14 factors, 5 assists and two steals in her hometown to assist get Auriemma again to the title recreation for the primary time since 2016.

“Points are hard to come by in this tournament, and today was certainly no different,” Auriemma stated. “We’re going to have to win some other way.”

Bueckers and her teammates huddled at midcourt in celebration as soon as the buzzer sounded, most of them holding up index fingers as they shouted, “One more!” at one another in anticipation of the subsequent — and final recreation — of this nothing-comes-easy season. Eight UConn gamers needed to miss at the very least two video games this season with damage or sickness.

These Huskies, the one No. 2 seed on this Final Four, may need overachieved a bit of, as unusual as that sounds for such a dynastic program.

“Coming in, I don’t think we’re the best team there. I don’t think we can win even if we play our ‘A’ game. We need help. We need Stanford to not play their best game. We need them to miss shots they normally make,” Auriemma stated.

UConn has by no means misplaced within the NCAA ultimate, sporting a staggering 11-0 file in nationwide championships. The 4 straight titles that the Huskies gained from 2013-16 was a streak interrupted by none aside from South Carolina in 2017, when UConn misplaced to Mississippi State on an time beyond regulation buzzer-beater within the Final Four.

The Gamecocks’ solely championship was the one 5 years in the past, this system’s solely championship.

South Carolina beat UConn within the Battle 4 Atlantis match within the Bahamas in November, pulling away from the Huskies within the fourth quarter with that stifling protection.

And no one could have extra of the highlight Sunday than Bueckers, the smooth-shooting, lightning-quick sophomore guard. She grew up in a first-ring suburb of Minneapolis and grew her recreation at Hopkins High School, simply 10 miles west of the sector that was offered out this weekend with a crowd of greater than 18,000.

“It doesn’t really matter the location,” stated Bueckers, who missed almost three months this season to a left knee damage. “We’re just trying to win and keep playing with this team.”

For Bueckers, who final 12 months grew to become the primary freshman to ever win the Player of the Year award, this stretch run has been all about getting again up to the mark and knocking off the rust from the lengthy layoff. Twice within the fourth quarter, she grimaced and gingerly walked round after laborious landings, however there’s no approach that knee — even when it’s not 100% — will hold her from going all out for the title.

“Everybody is going to lay it on the line,” Bueckers stated, “and that’s just basketball.”

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