MINNEAPOLIS — It was a 40-minute championship game, yes.
But when South Carolina set out on Sunday to point out that an N.C.A.A. title could possibly be all but won in a contest’s first 4 minutes, even against a mighty, sporadically feisty Connecticut, consider the hypothesis pressure-tested and proven on the game’s biggest stage.
The makings of a rout would ebb in certain moments, however the Gamecocks eventually defeated the Huskies with ease, 64-49, to assert the second national championship of their history.
The principal trouble for UConn on an evening filled with them was that there was barely any room for a sustained fight in a game that quickly rocketed out of reach, playing out like a mismatch.
By the primary timeout of the evening, not even three and a half minutes into play, South Carolina had a 9-point lead and baskets from 4 starters. It had 7 second-chance points and eight rebounds. UConn had a lone layup and, apart from a block, not much else it could wish to observe again.
It was an early and emphatic seizure of the glory that UConn had all the time — all the time — cultivated in national championship games, an onslaught so thoroughly stunning and tone-setting that the thicket of basketball fans contained in the Goal Center might have been forgiven for wondering whether or not they had paid handsomely to stumble right into a first-round tournament contest back in Columbia, S.C.
As a substitute, they saw South Carolina construct a rebound margin of 25, amongst the biggest within the history of girls’s basketball’s championship games, and seal its second title in six seasons.
“Tonight, we just didn’t have enough,” said Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma, who said he believed the sport’s opening minutes had been pivotal ones, despite UConn’s efforts in a while within the night. “They were just too good for us.”
Under Coach Dawn Staley, who took over in Columbia in 2008 and on Sunday became the primary coach to beat Auriemma in a national championship game, the Gamecocks have gone from a middling program to a marquee one which has turn into a mainstay of the postseason and as much a destination for prized recruits as anywhere within the country.
And that was before Sunday’s showcase in Minneapolis.
“They didn’t need to lose this battle,” Staley said of her players.
South Carolina, unlike injury-prone UConn, was a wire-to-wire favorite to succeed in the championship game and deliver a title. The Gamecocks opened the season ranked first within the Associated Press poll, a spot they never surrendered, with a roster that included five returning starters and 11 returning letterwinners.
Aliyah Boston, a 6-foot-5 junior forward from the US Virgin Islands, was the centerpiece from the beginning, a one-woman juggernaut of the hardwood with a double-double as a profession average and, by the season’s end, a fame as perhaps “the toughest person in America to protect,” as Auriemma had marveled before the sport.
“She scores if there’s one, two, three, 4 people on her,” Auriemma said over the weekend. “It doesn’t matter. She’s capable of carve out the space she wants. She gets the ball on the rim every time she wants. She rebounds whichever ball she goes after. She just has a knack.”
She also had talent round her. Zia Cooke, a junior guard, arrived in Minneapolis with three 20-point games this season. Brea Beal proved herself one of the crucial menacing defenders in all of girls’s basketball. Destanni Henderson was a preternaturally speedy senior guard who was among the many Southeastern Conference’s assist leaders, and Victaria Saxton, a forward from Rome, Ga., starred off the boards and in slapping down shots.
They might lose only twice — by 1 in extra time at Missouri on Dec. 30, and by 2 to Kentucky within the SEC tournament championship game — before they stormed through the N.C.A.A. tournament. Entering Sunday’s game, two days after every South Carolina starter posted double-digit scoring outings in its Final 4 contest against Louisville, the Gamecocks were averaging almost 70 points per game, holding their rivals to lower than 45 and dominating play off the boards, with a tournament rebounding margin of plus-19.4, one of the best in the sphere.
They were also exceptional at holding opponents to single-digit point totals per quarter. Entering Sunday’s game, the Gamecocks had done it 39 times. The Huskies were an improbable victim for the fortieth edition. But there they were after the primary, after the Gamecocks had gotten off greater than twice as many shots and picked up 4 times as many rebounds.
Six South Carolina players scored in the primary quarter. Paige Bueckers, the extraordinary sophomore guard for UConn who would later pronounce herself “upset, frustrated, disillusioned” by the tip of the night, went scoreless within the period, and the Huskies finished the quarter trailing by 14.
The Husky offense rumbled more within the second quarter, with UConn’s rebounding improving and Bueckers scoring 9 points. And though Boston, who finished the sport with 11 points, played much of the quarter, UConn held her scoreless. The South Carolina advantage, made possible by its overwhelming command of the night’s second probabilities and aided by guard play on the perimeter that kept UConn clear of fresh looks, fell to eight by the half.
The Gamecocks, whose coach had a chunk of the web from the 2017 championship game in her pocket on Sunday, would push their lead further within the third. However the game tightened sharply when South Carolina’s scoring entered a dry spell of greater than 4 minutes.
Bueckers, though, opened a 10-point run for the Huskies with a jumper, a part of an effort that included 14 points and 6 rebounds on the night. When Evina Westbrook brought UConn’s margin to six with a 3-pointer, the team’s second successful shot from behind the arc in 30 seconds, the Goal Center echoed as if Connecticut had planted a flag at midcourt.
But Henderson, who had scored the primary points of the evening for South Carolina and simply led her team’s scoring on Sunday, with a career-high 26 points, promptly pushed the margin back to 9 for the beginning of the ultimate quarter.
“I just found open gaps, and after they collapsed within the paint, Aliyah or whoever it was who was passing the ball just found me out on the perimeter, and I just let it fly,” she said after the sport.
Henderson and Saxton soon used a succession of layups and free throws to rebuild a double-digit lead for the Gamecocks, who had 17 points from the road, in comparison with UConn’s 1.
On Saturday, Henderson had preached how South Carolina would want to easily “take heed to our game plan and execute that.” She talked about the way it could possibly be “an important game, an important 40 minutes.”
For the Gamecocks, setting aside just a few pressurized bursts and the 22 seconds firstly after they were merely tied with Huskies, it was.
All Auriemma could do, in any case this time because the maestro who had led UConn to 14 consecutive Final Fours, was stand on the sideline, his arms crossed, waiting for the confetti to fall on Staley and South Carolina.