No. 1 South Carolina beats second-ranked UConn 73-57
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) - Aliyah Boston had 22 points and 15 rebounds to help No. 1 South Carolina beat second-ranked UConn 73-57 on Monday to win the inaugural Battle 4 Atlantis tournament championship.
This was the 61st meeting between the top two teams in the women’s AP Top 25 poll and the sixth time it has happened in November. The No. 1 team holds a 38-23 advantage. The last meeting of the top two teams before Monday was between these same squads back in February. UConn was the No. 2 team and won 63-59 in overtime.
The Gamecocks (6-0) wouldn’t let the Huskies (3-1) beat them in the Bahamas, outscoring them 16-3 in the final quarter.
‘’Our players are determined. They are resilient,’’ South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. ‘’We knew exactly what we had to do especially on the defensive side of the ball. We had to disrupt.’’
Trailing by 52-50 late in the third quarter, South Carolina turned up its defense, holding UConn without a field goal for 7:38 spanning the final two periods. By the time Evina Westbrook hit a 3-pointer from the wing with 5 minutes left, the Huskies trailed 63-57. They got no closer. Destiny Littleton quickly answered with a 3 on the other end to restore the comfortable margin.
She had hit a 3-pointer late in the third period to give the Gamecocks a 57-54 advantage heading into the fourth.
South Carolina, which outrebounded UConn 42-25, held the Huskies to just three points in the fourth quarter.
Paige Bueckers, UConn’s sophomore sensation, had 19 points to lead the Huskies, who had won nine of the 10 previous meetings between the schools.
With the championship game taking place around the same time the poll is released each Monday, the AP decided to delay the poll for a day so it will reflect the outcome - only the second time since the poll began in 1976 that it has been delayed.
The only other time also involved UConn. The second-ranked Huskies were playing No. 1 Tennessee on Jan. 16, 1995, in the first meeting of their storied rivalry. The Huskies pulled off the upset victory and moved to No. 1 for the first time in school history.
UConn couldn’t do it again on Monday.
It was an entertaining first half played at the Atlantis Resort inside a converted ballroom that had a loud spirited crowd supporting both teams. South Carolina jumped out to a 6-0 lead before UConn went on a 20-2 run sparked by senior center Olivia Nelson-Ododa. She had two blocks and drew an offensive foul in the span of a minute during the burst. The Huskies, who once were up by 13, led only 20-14 after one quarter.
The defensive intensity continued in the second quarter as the Gamecocks were able to whittle down their deficit to 36-33 at the half. They continued to chip away in the third quarter before the big run that gave them control of the game.
This was the first of two meetings this season between these teams. The Huskies will visit South Carolina on Jan. 27. Both teams expect to be much improved by the second matchup.
• Aliyah Boston came a rebound short of finishing the first half with a double-double. She was consistent in the first two quarters, with five points and five rebounds in the first and six points with four rebounds in the second. The junior posted almost identical second half numbers to finish with 22 points and a season-high 15 rebounds, her 31st career double-double.
• UConn scored 13 points off the fast break in the first half, more than South Carolina’s previous five opponents had for their entire games.
• The Gamecocks opened the third quarter with four made baskets in a row, highlighted by steals off back-to-back UConn inbounds passes that were converted into layups for Zia Cooke.
• Destiny Littleton’s 3-pointer to give the Gamecocks a 57-54 lead late in the third quarter snapped a streak of 11-straight misses from deep after South Carolina opened the game with back-to-back makes from beyond the 3-point line.
• South Carolina committed 11 turnovers in the first half and were outscored 13-8 in points off turnovers. In the final two quarters, the Gamecocks flipped the script, with just three turnovers compared to 10 for UConn and a 9-0 advantage in points off turnovers.
• Destanni Henderson finished with a career-high six steals, four coming in the second half. Her previous best was five, against Temple on Dec. 7, 2019. Henderson had six steals total through the team’s first five games of the season.
• The Gamecocks entered the game ranked 16th in the country with a +16.4 rebounding margin and improved upon that advantage with a 42-25 finish on the glass against the Huskies. More impressive was the 19-6 advantage in offensive rebounds, with Boston leading the Gamecocks with seven. That led to a 17-2 advantage for South Carolina in second-chance points.
• UConn’s three points in the fourth quarter is tied for the fewest allowed by South Carolina in a period so far this season.
The Gamecocks return to the friendly confines of Colonial Life Arena for a four-game home stand now, starting on Friday, Nov. 26 with a 3 p.m. game against Elon. That will air on the SEC Network+ online stream.
pm from Williams-Brice Stadium and the game will be televised on SEC Network.