On Monday night, it finally all came together for the South Carolina Gamecocks women’s basketball team.
For the first time in eight tries, the invincible Connecticut Huskies — who have long cast a deep, impenetrable shadow over other, would-be contenders in women’s basketball — came away on the losing side of a matchup with the Gamecocks.
And what an emphatic, cathartic victory it was for South Carolina: USC dominated the fifth-ranked Huskies 70-52 in a game that featured a stunning 2-point (yes, two) first quarter from UConn and was never truly in doubt, the sell-out crowd roaring deliriously with every basket.
While the Gamecocks entered this contest on top of the polls, there was still a slight sense of foreboding, and it was hard to consider them an outright favorite. Despite lifting a national championship trophy after the 2016-17 campaign, South Carolina didn’t have to go through UConn to do it — and rightly or wrongly, some observers attached a bit of an asterisk to that achievement. It was still a noteworthy accomplishment, to be sure, but everyone knew that until proven otherwise, the Huskies were — and continue to be — the standard. And while coach Dawn Staley embraced adding UConn to USC’s schedule, intent on sharpening iron against iron, South Carolina just couldn’t shatter that final ceiling.
Well, friends, here we are. The Gamecocks are now the undisputed No. 1 team in the land, and the current favorite to lock up the No. 1 overall seed for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. South Carolina is powered by an enviable mix of veteran talent (Ty Harris, Mikiah Herbert Harrigan) and freshmen phenoms (Aliyah Boston, Zia Cooke) and looks ready to kick things into an even higher gear despite already having a championship to its name. It is, in a word, exciting.
Despite the weeping and gnashing of teeth from the UConn side, though — which included coach Geno Auriemma expressing bitter frustration about not being allowed to lose “one” game (although this was the Huskies’ third this season against a ranked team) — UConn isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Aside from still having the opportunity to regroup and make a deep NCAA Tournament run this season, the Huskies have a dazzling talent and social media sensation on the way to Storrs in Paige Bueckers, who became the first female high school hooper to grace the cover of the venerable SLAM magazine. As much as I don’t particularly care for Geno, he has a point: Reports of UConn’s death are, at this juncture at least, greatly exaggerated.
But for right now, that doesn’t matter. The Gamecocks are on top of the women’s basketball world and have the resume to prove it. Can’t wait to see how the rest of this season — and the NCAA Tournament — unfolds.