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No. 1 South Carolina overcame a double-digit deficit and turned on the heat in the fourth to defeat No. 2 Connecticut, 73-57, in the championship game of the Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas on Monday.
It was a rematch of their 1-versus-2 meeting in February that No. 2 UConn won in overtime, 63-59. It was their fourth meeting as the 1-2 teams and the first win for South Carolina in the matchup. The Gamecocks have only two wins in the 11 games against UConn.
These two will meet again on Jan. 27 in Columbia, South Carolina, back on ESPN. They could also meet in April during the NCAA tournament as both are title favorites and UConn will have plenty of time to address the issues it ran into in paradise.
The Huskies were outscored, 16-3, in the fourth quarter of what was a 3-point game. They led by as many as 13 in the second quarter.
Boston, backcourt combo lift South Carolina
South Carolina center Aliyah Boston was kept largely ineffective in the paint in the first, but hit her only 3-pointer in the game in that span. She rebounded in the second half to finish with a 22-point, 15-rebound double-double. She had two assists and one block in a dominating performance.
"It's time for Aliyah to be the dominant player that she is," Gamecocks head coach Dawn Staley said of the two-time Lisa Leslie award-winner for the nation's best center. "I think she sells herself short a lot of times."
Her presence in the post, combined with six rebounds from transfer Kamilla Cardoso off the bench, helped the Gamecocks to a key 42-25 advantage on the glass. They were 19-6 in the offensive boards.
The backcourt was again strong for the Gamecocks (6-0), who have now defeated three top-10 ranked squads this season. Zia Cooke scored 17 with two steals and Destanni Henderson added 15 with six assists, six steals and three rebounds.
Destanni Henderson is too smooth with it 🙌
No. 1 South Carolina ends the game on a 10-0 run to beat No. 2 UConn 73-57! pic.twitter.com/JNQ8HAALHA
— ESPN (@espn) November 22, 2021
Turnovers were again an issue in the first half, allowing UConn (3-1) to jump out and control the first half. They led by 13 points early in the second quarter through a strong transition game and the turnovers. But South Carolina closed the half on a 10-2 run to cut the deficit to three, 36-33, and continued on a 7-2 run out of the break.
Boston's put-back and-1 play 90 seconds in gave the Gamecocks their first lead, 40-38, since 6-0 minutes into the contest. It was a game of short runs from there as they knotted it at 40, 50, 52 and 54. Henderson's 3-pointer and block by Cardoso sent the Gamecocks into the fourth up, 57-54.
UConn goes quiet in fourth quarter
South Carolina built its lead with a dominating fourth by suddenly turnover-prone and cold-shooting UConn. The Huskies only points of the quarter were a 3-pointer by Evina Westbrook at 5:02. She had 14 total on 4-for-6 shooting with three assists.
Paige Bueckers again led the scoring and took advantage of space in the midcourt. She scored 19 points off a 8-for-19 day with seven assists and five rebounds.
The upperclassman hit double-digits, too, but it was too little all-around for Connecticut. Christyn Williams scored 10 on a 3-for-10 day from the floor, though she hit all four free throws and had three assists.
"We'd rather have this 'L' in November than later in the season in March," Williams said.
The team only had one made bucket from the bench and Azzi Fudd, the heralded recruit who found her touch last game out, was on the court for only 10 minutes of action. She missed her only attempt and had one block.
Olivia Nelson-Ododa spurred UConn's early lead with strong defense that spurred the Huskies' transition game. She had a game-high five blocks, three of which were in the first quarter, with six points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals.
The loss is a good litmus test for
All eyes on UConn vs. South Carolina
The two top seeds since the preseason poll were on a collision course to meet in the Bahamas. As a result, ESPN moved the game from its secondary channel to its first while The Associated Press pushed the weekly AP Top 25 poll one day to properly reflect the result.
The poll is usually released Mondays around 12 p.m. ET — the tip time for the game — and was moved for only the second time in its history. The first was when the No. 2 Huskies played No. 1 Tennessee on Jan. 16, 1995, in the first meeting of the two powerhouses.
Per the AP, it's the 61st meeting between the No. 1 and No. 2 seed and the sixth time it's happened in November. The No. 1 team is 37-23 all-time in the matchups. UConn is 22-3 all-time, playing in 25 of the 61 contests.
South Carolina advanced to the title game by defeating Buffalo, 88-60, and No. 9 Oregon, 80-63. UConn go through with wins over Minnesota, 88-58, and No. 23 South Florida, 60-53.
No. 9 Oregon will face No. 23 South Florida in the third-place game. That will be followed by Minnesota vs. Oklahoma at 5 p.m. ET and Syracuse versus Buffalo at 7:30 p.m. ET.
It's a special Feast Week in college basketball. No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 UCLA will meet on the men's side at the Empire Classic in Las Vegas on Tuesday night. It's the 43rd all-time meeting between the No. 1 and No. 2 men's seeds.