Columbia, SC— Both teams were fighting to prove who the nation's top team was: they were playing to keep their undefeated streaks intact, South Carolina's home court streak at 45, and UConn going for 60 straight wins. While South Carolina tried to protect their perfect status, the Huskies showed no mercy at all, giving the Gamecocks their first loss of the season, 66-54. Not only their first loss this year, yet ended their home court streak as well.
"These are the reasons why we come to UConn," said UConn star forward Breanna Stewart. "To play these big time games, and to be at someone's home court where they have a sell out crowd, and everyone's cheering against us. That's exciting for us! The odds are against us and we have to find a way to fight and win the game."
The Gamecocks were not able to take advantage of multiple possessions in the first quarter on the offensive end of the basket, as they allowed UConn’s man-to-man defense stir them up causing turnovers and two shot clock violations. From the beginning the Huskies set the tone with their lock down defense completely rattling the Gamecocks.
"With a team like UConn, you cant go without scoring a possession, and they make you pay for it, and that's tough when they're putting points on the board," said South Carolina's A'ja Wilson. "I feel like it's really just stick with your system."
Making multiple strong moves to the basket, Breanna Stewart started off the game attacking the basket without any hesitation to get her team going. Morgan Tuck thrived off of her energy finding her way to the basket as well, leading the Huskies with seven points to close out the quarter, 17-8. Facing a tough post defense inside from South Carolina, Steward and Tuck were not afraid to be aggressive going inside immediately from the tip.
A'ja Wilson stepped up for the Gamecocks, as she hit a big shot for South Carolina which got the 18,000 sold-out facility rowdy. However, Stewart hit a clutch three-pointer at the top of the key to quiet the crowd quickly. She wasn't done with the three point basket though, she went on to hit another shot that forced USC to call a time out. Stewart ended the second quarter with 13 points.
"I wanted to win the game more so for our fans (than) actually our team, because they're so committed," said South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley. "They was disciplined tonight...we weren't. They tried to put their energy into our team and we disappointed them."
Dominating for the Gamecocks, Wilson was taken out with 4:19 left on the clock after hobbling down the court with an apparent injury to either her lower leg or ankle. Being the only player for the Gamecocks who wasn't shying away from the powerful Huskies, seeing her go down brought worry to not only the team, but fans as well seeing a top player go down.
Wilson had started off the game four for four from the field. In her absence, Mitchell became more assertive on offense seeing her team needed somebody to step up.
With Wilson out of the game, USC’s intensity did not let up, as Sarah Imovbioh made an and-one and cut the score down. Seeing their teammate go down, unsure if she would return, South Carolina rallied together to go on a run to get back in the game with UConn.
The Gamecocks left Kia Nurse wide open though on the wing where she knocked down a three to improve the score to, 33-23. The Huskies still continued to rattle the Gamecocks on defense.
USC ended the half with Khadijah Sessions making her way down the middle to create a 10 point deficient going into the half 25-30. Sessions needed a basket as the tenacious defense of Moriah Jefferson was hounding her the entire night.
The Huskies once again showed the nation while they are number one and led by a great point guard in Jefferson. The Huskies has beautiful ball movement the entire night. One good play, Jefferson dished it off with a phenomenal look to Tuck for her to lay it up off the glass.
Tuck didn't practice yesterday as she came off of missing games to rest her nagging knee injury. There were no effects of her knee bothering her tonight, as she played aggressive on offense and defense picking up right where she left off before she was sidelined to rest.
Stewart’s wide wingspan made it easy for her deny Tiffany Mitchell's attempted shot and came right back on the other end to hit a three-pointer for the Huskies. Arguably the best player in UConn history, Stewart plays hard on both sides of the ball. She picked up another double-double on the year, 25 points and 10 rebounds. She uses her wingspan to her advantage rejecting the Gamecocks multiple times marking down five blocks on the night.
With 28.6 on the clock in the third, Wilson checked back in ready to finish the game and hopefully bring her team back to get the victory. she didn't let up with her aggression as she jumped right back into the game attacking the paint. The Gamecocks made a run at UConn, creating some havoc themselves, but it wouldn't be enough.
UConn averages nearly 90 points a game. One thing the Gamecocks can be happy about is they held UConn to 66 points which is well below their average. The down fall for South Carolina is if you are going to beat UConn, your only shots to do so is defensive stops--which they had some moments of that late in the second half--yet also scoring. They have plenty of scoring options on their team, all opponents will also need scoring options to battle them.
The senior trio of Stewart, Tuck, and Jefferson had a memorable night as their head coach Geno Auriemma got emotional when discussing them.
"I appreciate them more and more everyday," said Auriemma. "Because sometimes I start to blink, and I look out there and I realize next year they're not going to be there and I really appreciate them."
For UConn behind Stewart, Tuck had 16 points, while Jefferson had 12.The Gamecocks were led by A'ja Wilson and Sarah Imovbioh, who both scored 13.