South Carolina lived up to their No. 1 ranking, beating UConn 70-52 Monday night in front of a sold out home crowd.
18,000 fans packed into Colonial Life Arena to watch the Gamecocks (23-1) take down No. 5 UConn (20-3) for the first time in the two teams’ nine total matchups.
Colonial Life Arena has been a notoriously tough place for opposing teams to play in, with the Gamecocks currently holding a perfect 10-0 mark at home this season. They’ve had two undefeated seasons at home in the last seven years, and two seasons with just one loss.
At one point, South Carolina’s lead grew as large as 21, but a late run by Crystal Dangerfield and Co. helped the Huskies claw their way back into the game. UConn carried momentum from the end of the third quarter into the fourth, cutting the lead as low as 11.
Dangerfield scored a career-high 25 points, shooting an efficient 9-for-18 with three 3-pointers. Despite the career day from their senior point guard, the Huskies weren’t able to find much offense elsewhere.
UConn only went six players deep, playing Dangerfield and Megan Walker all 40 minutes. Olivia Nelson-Ododa played 39 minutes before fouling out, Christyn Williams played 37 minutes despite overcoming the flu recently, while freshmen Anna Makurat and Aubrey Griffin played 25 and 19, respectively. Nobody other than Dangerfield scored over 10 points.
South Carolina played stifling defense, holding the Huskies to 36% from the field and a season-low four 3-pointers. They also handily won the turnover battle 15 to 7.
The Gamecocks’ intense defense was suffocating right off the tip. UConn shot just 1-for-16 in the first quarter, scoring a grand total of two points. Two points. It was UConn’s lowest scoring quarter since women’s college basketball moved to quarters in 2015.
Whenever UConn started to work away at the lead South Carolina built early, the Gamecocks were able to respond with a bucket. Tyasha Harris was a big problem for the Huskies. The guard played the entire game, scoring 19 points on just as many shots and dishing out a game-high 11 assists and zero turnovers.
Harris’ partner in the backcourt Zia Cooke fed off the crowd’s energy and made electric plays all night. She scored 15, stole the ball three times and made countless hustle plays that don’t show up in the box score.
The Gamecocks’ ability to shut down UConn’s best comeback efforts made them seemingly unbeatable. Following a Dangerfield 3-pointer that cut the lead to 14 with 3:57 left, South Carolina was able to earn extra possessions with two offensive rebounds, running over a minute off the clock. Though they didn’t score, precious time UConn couldn’t afford to lose was off the clock.
Walker then hit a jumper on the other end to cut UConn’s deficit to 12, and the Huskies forced another miss on defense. Unfortunately for them, they gave up yet another offensive rebound, and Harris hit what was likely the dagger with 1:49 remaining.
The bad news is, this loss gives UConn three losses this season to who are now the top three teams in the country. The Huskies lost to Baylor in January and Oregon last Monday, both in Connecticut.
The good news is, their remaining schedule is solely against American Athletic Conference teams, against which UConn is 130-0 lifetime.
Their next game isn’t for six days, as the Huskies will travel down to Tampa, Fla. to play USF Sunday afternoon. That game will tip off at 2 p.m.