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Reflecting on South Carolina’s championship and the rest of the country’s 2021-22 season

The South Carolina Gamecocks have lived up to expectations and are your national champions.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Final Four Championship Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The South Carolina Gamecocks handled the self-applied pressure to win it all in impressive fashion, defeating the UConn Huskies by 15 in the national championship game. Understandably, it wasn’t always easy for the Gamecocks to put their emotions aside, as the pressure was probably part of what caused them to lose to Missouri in the regular season and Kentucky in the SEC Tournament championship game.

In the second round of the NCAA Tournament, they struggled offensively, only scoring 49 points on No. 8 seed Miami. Then, in the Sweet Sixteen, they failed to be dominant against No. 5 seed North Carolina, only winning by eight. But from their 80-50 Elite Eight win over Creighton on, they were seemingly uninhibited by any nerves en route to Aliyah Boston being able to tell the world “if you guys want a smile, here you go ... and we’re national champions.”

Boston was of course referring to her distaste for the overuse of the video of her crying from last year’s Final Four. In that Final Four, she had a split second to try to put the right touch on the ball and was unsuccessful, with her potential game-winning put-back bouncing off the back rim and out, allowing Stanford to advance past South Carolina. Boston got the perfect revenge on that moment and did it as a member of the wire-to-wire No. 1 team that everybody was waiting to see trip up at any moment. She and her teammates instilled their reputations as players who can rise to the occasion when it matters most. South Carolina handled Louisville fairly comfortably in the Final Four and then came out with the exact opposite of nerves in the title game and never truly looked back.

As ESPN announcer Ryan Ruocco said as the clock hit triple zeroes Sunday night, “it is not unfinished business any longer.” Beyond all of her individual accolades, the 2022 player of the year is certified as a champion, as are all of her teammates, including all the upperclassmen who were there with her when the team was robbed of an NCAA Tournament the year they finished No. 1 the AP Poll.

And, as was well-documented yesterday by Swish Appeal editor-in-chieft Sabreena Merchant, Destanni Henderson was the feel-good story of the championship run. The underrated point guard became the clear-cut second best player on the team and took them to the level of greatness necessary to win it all.

Other NCAA Tournament highlights

The Creighton Bluejays advanced all the way to the Elite Eight as a No. 10 seed. Lauren Jensen made the game-winning shot against her former team, the No. 2 seed Iowa Hawkeyes, in a second-round stunner.

The South Dakota Coyotes joined Creighton as a No. 10 seed in the Sweet 16 with upset wins coming over No. 7 seed Ole Miss and No. 2 seed Baylor. Chloe Lamb and Hannah Sjerven were two of the best players in the entire bracket through two rounds.

Conference tournament Cinderellas

The Kentucky Wildcats battled back from being outside the bubble to earning a No. 6 seed because of their victory over South Carolina in the SEC championship game. Rhyne Howard and Dre’una Edwards, the latter of whom made the game-winning shot to topple the Gamecocks, reminded everyone just how dangerous they are and salvaged their team’s season.

The Miami Hurricanes were the other Power 5 team to drastically improve their status with a conference tournament run, advancing all the way to the ACC title game as the No. 7 seed. They beat No. 2 seed Louisville in the quarterfinals thanks to a late 15-0 individual run by Destiny Harden, who also made the game-winner at the buzzer.

Gary Blair retires

The 2011 national championship-winning coach finished out his final season on a court named after him at Texas A&M’s Reed Arena. On Dec. 9, Blair won his 439th game at A&M, pushing him past former Aggie men’s coach Shelby Metcalf for most wins as a basketball coach at the school.

News

  • Paige Bueckers became the first NCAA athlete to sign with Gatorade.
  • NCAAW refs achieved equal pay to that of NCAAM refs for the NCAA Tournament.

UConn streaks that ended and one that didn’t

The Huskies kept their 29-year streak of not losing back-to-back games alive even though they played Creighton after losing to Louisville and DePaul after losing to Villanova — both without Paige Bueckers. DePaul made the NCAA Tournament.

The Wildcats broke UConn’s 169-game winning streak in conference games (Big East and AAC). Meanwhile, Georgia Tech snapped the the Huskies’ 240-game win streak vs. unranked opponents.

Other big upset

For the seventh time in NCAAW Division I history, a team outside the Top 25 defeated No. 1. Missouri snapped South Carolina’s 43-game winning streak against unranked opponents.

Louisville and Stanford make Final Four and extend excellence

The Cardinals have been ranked in the AP Top Ten 95 weeks in a row and the Cardinal have been there 62 weeks in a row. Stanford went undefeated in the Pac-12 regular season and tournament.

Accomplishments

Player of the year Aliyah Boston

  • Swept the national player of the year awards and set an SEC record for consecutive double-doubles with 27.
  • On Nov. 29 notched a career-high 29 points and went 13-of-13 from the field, setting the South Carolina record for most field goals made without a miss.

Caitlin Clark’s many accomplishments

  • Led the nation in both points per game (27) and assists per game (eight).
  • Reached 1,500 career points faster than any women’s or men’s player over the past 20 years.
  • Two 40-point games in same week.
  • Tied the Big Ten record for most triple-doubles in a career with six.
  • dished out 17 assists in a game, which is the most ever by a single player in a regular-season Big Ten game and the most ever for an Iowa player
  • Reached 1,000 career points in the 10th game of her sophomore year. No Big Ten player has ever gotten to that number faster.

Other

  • Lorela Cubaj became Georgia Tech’s rebound leader.
  • Naz Hillmon reached 52 career double-doubles, setting the Michigan women’s basketball record. She closed her career with six-straight, including one in each of her four NCAA Tournament games.
  • Jasmine Dickey of the Delaware Blue Hens had 52 points in a game.
  • Kelsey Marshall of the Miami Hurricanes passed the Microwave (Riquna Williams) as the most prolific 3-point shooter in program history.
  • Aneesah Morrow of the DePaul Blue Demons had a double-double streak of 23 games.