A seminal moment for an elite program
COLUMBIA, S.C. — It is unclear how many people attended the game inside Colonial Life Arena on Monday night. Counting the number of butts in seats would be an inaccurate formula, because for most of the game, much of the supporters – many of them clad in garnet and black – stood and cheered. Nevertheless, judging by how that crowd roared when Aliyah Boston grabbed a rebound or when Tyasha Harris dished out a head-turning assist, the place seemed to be packed. Perhaps more than its ever been for a women’s basketball game.
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All of those people – and many more watching from home on ESPN2 – saw South Carolina beat UConn for the first time ever in women’s basketball. In its eight previous tries, the Gamecocks had been unsuccessful, but Dawn Staley’s side prevailed Monday, capturing a 70-52 victory.
The No. 1 ranked Gamecocks were led by senior guard Tyasha Harris, who poured in 19 points, 11 assists and four rebounds. For the No. 5 Huskies, who suffered their – gasp! – third loss of the season, Crystal Dangerfield had 25 points.
Of the fans and the rocking arena, Dangerfield said, “Yea, I’m not sure what the attendance was, but this is probably the biggest arena we’ll play in… At times, it was hard to hear.”
Harris set the tone
Not only did Harris stuff the stat sheet, but her steady hand guided the Gamecocks all night. From the beginning tip to the final buzzer, Harris set the tone of the game.
The 5-foot-10 senior from Noblesville, Indiana impacted the game in a big way in the first half. She had six points and a rebound in the first quarter, then six points and six assists in the second quarter.
UConn simply couldn’t guard her, and when they did she was able to make the right pass at the right time for an easy bucket.
No answer for Boston early
Helping Harris set that tone was Aliyah Boston, the bruising 6-foot-5 forward from St. Thomas. In the first quarter, she absolutely dominated, tallying nine rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Simply put, UConn didn’t have an answer for her early on. She as a big reason why the Gamecocks led 11-2 at the end of the first quarter.
“They just wanted it more than us,” Dangerfield said. “We didn’t box out well enough and we weren’t aggressive.”
Boston went on to finish with 13 points on 14 shots and collected a total of 12 rebounds. So, UConn was able to contain her a bit later on in the game, but Boston’s presence and dominance early on certainly made an impact.
For UConn, Megan Walker had eight rebounds and Olivia Nelson-Ododa had nine rebounds.
“The atmosphere made it a little more high-end,” Boston said. “It was just an exciting game.”
The win for South Carolina cements it as a legit Final Four contender. Should the Gamecocks not slip up in SEC play the rest of the way, they should be the No. 1 overall seed come tournament time.
“It helps a lot, our confidence. Just letting the world know that we’re contenders for the Final Four,” Harris said. “We’re happy now… It feels great.”
And for UConn? Sadly, for the program’s detractors, this isn’t the end of the Huskies. They’ve lost to Oregon, Baylor and South Carolina – but all of those teams are really, really, really good. And UConn has wiped the floor with every other team they’ve faced.
Geno Auriemma isn’t retiring tomorrow. They’re not tearing the program down. UConn will still win the American and we’ll probably still see them in New Orleans in April.
“We’re allowed to lose a god damned game once in a while where the other team plays better than us,” Auriemma said after the game.
He added, of the Huskies’ potential NCAA tournament seeding, “We were No. 1 earlier this season, weren’t we? Hard to believe right? So, who gives a shit what it is? Where you are, four, five, 12, 17, 25, who cares?… This year, we’re like every other team in the country, god forbid.”
Indeed. Tonight, in Columbia, the Gamecocks were just better. And they made UConn look like any other team.
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