Women’s Basketball: No. 5 Huskies host No. 1 South Carolina in national championship rematch 

The UConn Women’s basketball team take on DePaul University at Gampel Pavilion on Monday, Jan. 9. UConn left the game with a 94-51 victory over DePaul with Aaliyah Edwards scoring 23 of the total points for the team. Photo by Photo Editor Erin Knapp/Daily Campus

All season long, the No. 5 UConn women’s basketball team has battled tough competition, regardless of ranking, with a limited number of healthy players. On Sunday, the Huskies face its toughest test of the season as they host the No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks at the sold-out XL Center in a rematch of the 2022 national championship. 

These two programs were scheduled to meet once last year but instead met twice in different tournament finals. The first meeting came in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game in 2021, with South Carolina holding UConn to three points in the final frame en route to the invitational title. 

After their regularly scheduled game in January got scrapped due to having to make up other games, the two familiar foes met in Minneapolis with the national championship on the line. The Gamecocks jumped out to a 22-8 lead in the first quarter and never looked back as they won their second national title. Despite losing its last two games against South Carolina, the Huskies lead the all-time series 9-3. 

As of Thursday night, UConn (21-2, 13-0 Big East) has eight players available for Sunday’s contest. The Huskies are coming off a 12-day stretch where they played five games but looked tired in its last three despite winning all of them. In spite of its injuries, UConn is tied for the fourth-longest winning streak in the nation with the Gonzaga Bulldogs at 14. 

Despite a four-point, four-rebound performance against the Providence Friars on Wednesday, Aaliyah Edwards has been the dominant force on both ends of the floor. Recently named a Top 10 Candidate for the Katrina McClain Award given to the nation’s best power forward, Edwards is averaging 16.8 PPG and 8.9 RPG with a team-leading 25 blocks. 

When Edwards gets contained by the opposition, Dorka Juhász takes control on both ends of the floor. Despite both forwards each having nine double-doubles this season, Juhász is averaging one per game with 15 points and 10.4 boards. While she thrives in the paint, Juhász is an underrated three-point threat with 14 shots from beyond the arc.  

Lou Lopez Sénéchal has been the team’s premiere offensive guard with Azzi Fudd and Paige Bueckers both out of action. Lopez Sénéchal, who averages 16.8 PPG, has scored in double figures all but once and is shooting 47.5% from beyond the arc. Nika Mühl makes up for her lack of scoring (6.9 PPG) with her ability to command the court as she leads the country in total and average assists (193 and 8.8 respectively). Mühl’s only weakness is that she is prone to turning the ball over as she has done so a team-leading 77 times. 

The biggest wildcard in the starting five is Aubrey Griffin, who would most likely win the Comeback Player of the Year Award if one existed. 21 games removed from missing last season due to injury, Griffin is averaging 13.8 PPG and 7.1 RPG on 59% shooting. Griffin, who has four double-doubles, has scored in double figures in her last six games. 

The top-ranked and undefeated Gamecocks have been unanimously voted No. 1 in every AP poll this year with wins against ranked teams such as the No. 2 Stanford Cardinal. Entering Thursday’s matchup against the Kentucky Wildcats, South Carolina averages 82 points per contest and leads the nation in scoring defense at 46 points per game. 

The Gamecocks look significantly better compared to last season, but the more things change, the more it stays the same for Aliyah Boston. Boston, who holds the program record for double-doubles in a career, could be the first player to win the National Player of the Year Award in consecutive seasons since the Huskies’ Breanna Stewart won it three years in a row from 2014-2016. She has the resume to support her case again as she averages 12.9 points and 9.8 boards per contest with a team-leading 43 swats. Boston, a 60.5% shooter from the field, has picked up a double-double in each of her last six games. 

Boston is not the team’s leading scorer however, despite her national recognition and success in her collegiate career. That honor belongs to Zia Cooke, the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award candidate who is tied for ninth in the SEC at 15.4 PPG. While Boston is efficient from the floor, Cooke is the only player to attempt at least 60 threes on the team and is shooting 38% from beyond the arc. 

Although those are the only two South Carolina stars averaging double figures in every game, they have a bunch of players that should not be ignored. Those players include Brea Beal, the sister of Washington Wizards’ star Bradley Beal, and Raven Johnson. Beal may be averaging 5.1 PPG, but she is just as dangerous on both ends of the floor as she is second on the team in assists and third in blocks. Johnson plays a game similar to Mühl despite starting two out of the 20 games she has played as she leads the team in both assists (66) and steals (26). 

On top of the battle of the boards, the most important thing to watch in this contest is bench play. Unless Caroline Ducharme clears concussion protocol, the Huskies will have three bench players available that average around 11 minutes a game and combine for 7.2 points. South Carolina meanwhile has more bench players than UConn has healthy, which means they can rest their starters much longer. While this may seem lopsided on paper, what will make the difference between a close game and a blowout is how quickly head coach Geno Auriemma goes to his bench if his starters get tired or get into foul trouble. Should the Gamecocks draw fouls early and often, the latter is more likely to occur. 

Tipoff in this highly anticipated matchup is scheduled for 12 p.m. on FOX. 

Leave a Reply