The pregame clichés were abundant.
The sold-out crowd, the bout of the unbeatens, the No. 1-vs.-No. 2 matchup, the game of the regular season. The script was written for a classic.
But the reality of the situation, for better or worse, is that with No. 1 Connecticut (23–0), there are hardly ever any classics. And the Huskies made no exception Monday night, defeating No. 2 South Carolina (22–1) 66–54. It was UConn’s 11th-straight win in a No. 1-vs.-No. 2 clash as the country’s top-ranked team.
In front of a predominately South Carolina-favored capacity crowd of 18,000 at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia—the largest ever in attendance for a women’s basketball game in state history—the Huskies utilized a lethal combination of size and strength to silence the South Carolina faithful and snap the Gamecocks’ 45-game home winning streak.
“We’re never going to play a team this good on their home court in the NCAA tournament,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said of the previously unbeaten Gamecocks, who last faced the Huskies in February 2015 in another No. 1-vs.-No. 2 matchup.
But much like last year at Gampel Pavilion, a game in which UConn rolled to an 87–62 victory, the Huskies dominated the Gamecocks from the onset on Monday, leaving no doubt who deserved the coveted No. 1 ranking.
In 2015, it was five three pointers from Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and 22 points from Breanna Stewart that led then-No. 2 UConn over then-No. 1 South Carolina and to the reclamation of the top ranking. But this time, without a graduated Mosqueda-Lewis, it was Stewart who stole the show.
The senior, who entered Monday’s game averaging 16.8 points and 9.8 rebounds in her five previous No. 1-vs.-No. 2 games, starred for her team yet again, posting her ninth double double of the season with 25 points and 10 rebounds. Teammates Morgan Tuck and Moriah Jefferson chipped in with 16 and 12 points, respectively, en route the UConn’s 60th straight win.
South Carolina was led by 13 points apiece from Sarah Imovbioh and leading scorer A’ja Wilson, who missed more than a quarter of play due to a leg injury sustained in the first half. All-America selection Tiffany Mitchell, who finished with 12 points, was also sidelined by injury, as a recurring lower back bruise confined her to the bench for the second half.
What was Auriemma’s rallying cry for his team against the Gamecocks?
“Don’t let them go into the high post,” Stewart said.
UConn responded accordingly, denying the high-low entry and limiting South Carolina’s star bigs, Wilson and Alaina Coates, to a combined 15 points.
With Monday night’s effort, which boosted the Huskies’ alltime series record against the Gamecocks to 35–21, Stewart and company once again proved just how hard it is for any team to carry out a classic against them, no matter how beautifully the script may be written ahead of time.