The South Carolina Gamecocks used a stifling defensive effort to shut down Paige Bueckers and defeat UConn to win the NCAA National Championship on Sunday night.
Bueckers came in as one of the biggest stories of the night. The Hopkins native had come back from an anterior tibial plateau fracture and led the Huskies to the Final Four in her home state. Although she limped off the court in the fourth quarter of UConn's national semifinal win over Stanford, Bueckers was ready for the title game.
That grittiness had trouble shining through in the opening moments. The Gamecocks shut down UConn early, opening a 13-2 lead early. South Carolina also bottled up Bueckers and fellow UConn star Azzi Fudd as neither had a field goal attempt until a missed jumper by Bueckers with 3:20 left in the first quarter.
The opening quarter helped South Carolina dominate early until the Huskies closed ground late in the second to make it a 38-27 game at halftime. The Gamecocks built a 16-point lead before UConn answered with a 10-0 run to make it a 43-37 game with 1:33 left in the third quarter.
But that would be the closest the Huskies would get. Although Bueckers led UConn with 14 points on the night, Destanni Henderson scored a game-high 26 to help South Carolina earn their second title in school history.
It ends an injury-riddled season for Bueckers, who completed her second season at UConn. With an offseason to heal, Bueckers should be ready to help the Huskies contend for a title in her junior year.