No. 1 South Carolina defeats No. 2 UConn in champ game preview

No. 1 South Carolina overcame a double-digit deficit and turned on the heat in the fourth to defeat No. 2 Connecticut, 73-57, in the championship game of the Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas on Monday. 

It was a rematch of their 1-vs-2 meeting in February that No. 2 UConn won in overtime, 63-59. These two will meet again on Jan. 27 in Columbia, South Carolina. It was their fourth meeting as the 1-2 teams and the first win for South Carolina in the matchup. It was only their second win in 11 all-time meetings against UConn. 

Boston, backcourt combo lift South Carolina

South Carolina center Aliyah Boston was kept largely ineffective in the paint in the first, but hit her only 3-pointer in the game. She rebounded in the second half to finish with a 22-point, 15-rebound double-double. She had two assists and one block. Her presence in the post, combined with six rebounds from transfer Kamilla Cardoso off the bench, helped South Carolina to a key 41-26 advantage on the glass. 

The backcourt was again strong for the Gamecocks (6-0), who have now defeated three top-10 ranked squads this season. Zia Cooke scored 17 with two steals and Destanni Henderson added 15 with six assists, six steals and three rebounds. 

Turnovers were again an issue in the first half, allowing UConn to jump out and control the first half. They led by 13 points early in the second quarter through a strong transition game and the turnovers. But South Carolina closed the half on a 10-2 run to cut the deficit to three, 36-33, and continued on a 7-2 run out of the break. 

Boston’s put-back and-1 play 90 seconds in gave the Gamecocks their first lead, 40-38, since 6-0 minutes into the contest. It was a game of short runs from there as they knotted it at 40, 50, 52 and 54. A Destanni Henderson 3-pointer and block by Kamilla Cardoso sent the Gamecocks into the fourth up, 57-54. 

South Carolina built its lead with a dominating fourth that included a scoring draught by suddenly turnover-prone UConn. The Huskies first points of the quarter were a 3-pointer by Evina Westbrook at 5:02. 

All eyes on UConn vs. South Carolina 

The two top seeds since the preseason poll were on a collision course to meet in the Bahamas. As a result, ESPN moved the game from its secondary channel to its first while the Associated Press pushed the weekly AP Top 25 poll one day to properly reflect the result. 

The poll is usually released Mondays around 12 p.m. ET — the tip time for the game — and was moved for only the second time in its history. The first was when the No. 2 Huskies played No. 1 Tennessee on Jan. 16, 1995, in the first meeting of the two powerhouses. 

Per the AP, it’s the 61st meeting between the No. 1 and No. 2 seed and the sixth time it’s happened in November. The No. 1 team is 37-23 all-time in the matchups. UConn is 22-3 all-time, playing in 25 of the 61 contests. 

South Carolina advanced to the title game by defeating Buffalo, 88-60, and No. 9 Oregon, 80-63. UConn go through with wins over Minnesota, 88-58, and No. 23 South Florida, 60-53. 

It’s a special “Feast Week” in college basketball. No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 UCLA will meet on the men’s side at the Empire Classic in Las Vegas on Tuesday night. It’s the 43rd all-time meeting between the No. 1 and No. 2 men’s seeds. 

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