ALBANY – The past two national champions, UConn and South Carolina, faced off Monday night for a chance to go to the Final Four. Both women’s basketball programs have been dominant over the past several years, but this night belonged to UConn, as the Huskies annihilated the Gamecocks in a 94-65 victory.
UConn (36-0) came out of the gate ready for the big matchup, forcing South Carolina into six turnovers in the first six minutes. Over the final four minutes of the quarter, the Huskies outscored the Gamecocks 15-4. The run was capped by a Crystal Dangerfield 3-pointer that beat the buzzer and gave UConn a 30-12 lead heading into the second quarter.
The Huskies shot 5-6 from the 3-point line in the first, a trend that would continue throughout the game. UConn ended up shooting 12-20 (60 percent) from behind the arc, accounting for 38 percent of their points.
“We could’ve tried anything, but they were shooting great from the 3-point line,” South Carolina star forward A’ja Wilson said. “That was one of our keys, was just defend the 3-point line, and we had a little trouble doing that.”
Dangerfield was on fire all first half, going 5-5 from the 3-point line on her way to 19 points. The sophomore point guard finished the game with 21 points and five assists while committing just one turnover.
“The last two days, Coach was really just telling me to be aggressive,” Dangerfield said. “Make plays for myself, make plays for my teammates. Right before the game started, Coach pulled me to the side and told me to get back to what I was doing early in the year. I think tonight, my teammates did a great job of finding me when I was open, and I was able to knock those shots in early.”
Gabby Williams had an incredible individual effort as well, scoring a team-high 23 points on 11-16 shooting along with five rebounds, five assists and two steals. Williams and Dangerfield combined for 47 percent of the Huskies’ points.
“The reason we won by so much is our team played great, but even had we not played or shot the ball as well as we did, the way those two played would have been enough to get us to next weekend,” Auriemma said. “Just individual brilliance on their part. That’s what you need at this time.”
Williams’ defense was just as crucial for the Huskies in trying to slow the physical South Carolina frontcourt. Wilson was the Gamecocks’ only source of offense for much of the game. In what turned out to be the final game of her historic collegiate career, the projected No. 1 pick in the WNBA Draft scored a game-high 26 points on 11-18 shooting.
Led by Wilson and Alexis Jennings, who added 15 points of her own on 7-10 shooting, South Carolina scored 48 of their 65 points in the paint. The Gamecocks made just one 3-pointer in the game and only attempted seven to UConn’s 20.
“They spent a lot of time on the shot clock trying to get the ball to certain spots,” Auriemma said. “We traded a bunch of threes for twos, and you can’t make people miss all the time. They’re good players.”
After opening the game with an 18-point lead after one quarter, UConn never saw its lead dip below 14. The Huskies cruised to their 11th consecutive Final Four appearance, advancing to the national semifinal Friday.
UConn’s streak-breaking loss in last year’s Final Four has been well-documented, but now that the Huskies are back, redemption isn’t on their minds. Auriemma and his players have been taking a game-by-game approach all season and that won’t change in Columbus next weekend.
“There’s no theme, there’s no rallying cry that’s going to reverberate through the entire season that’s going to carry us back to the Final Four,” Auriemma said. “I don’t buy any of that stuff. What I do think is these kids are pretty good at understanding when it’s a big, big game. And they generally show up in big games. This year, every single one.”
“Redemption, I don’t know if it’s the word,” Williams said. “But I think we definitely have something to prove. I think not only to the rest of the world, but to ourselves as well.”
When they get to Columbus, the Huskies will renew their rivalry with Notre Dame. The No. 1-seeded Fighting Irish defeated No. 2 Oregon 84-74 Monday night to clinch their Final Four berth.
Josh Buser is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.