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In season of comebacks, UConn can't come back one more time as South Carolina wins championship

Paige Bueckers talked through tears Sunday night after she and the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team lost the national championship game to South Carolina 64-49.

“I’m super proud of this team for how far we’ve come and all the adversity we dealt with, and all that we’ve overcome to get to this point,” Bueckers said. “But at UConn, it’s national championship or nothing, so I’m obviously upset, frustrated, disappointed.”

All-or-nothing is a reality when you play for a program that’s won more championships than any other in NCAA Division I women’s college basketball.

It is hard though to go there considering what the team went through to get to the very last game of the women’s basketball season.

At one point this season, things weren’t looking good for UConn.

The Huskies lost four games in a seven-game stretch, and for the first time in 16 years, they were knocked out of the first 10 spots of the national Top 25 rankings. UConn was also down a bunch of players, including Bueckers, the 2020-21 AP Women’s College Player of the Year, who fractured her leg in December.

But UConn came back.

The Huskies got healthier, Bueckers returned, and entering Sunday’s national championship game, the Huskies had won 15 straight.

But that late-season momentum wasn’t enough, as UConn ran into South Carolina.

“When you play in a game like this and you don’t win, it’s just incredibly difficult,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma told reporters after the game.

Destanni Henderson led the way for South Carolina with 26 points.

“I just stay positive,” Henderson said after the game. “We’ve been working hard since day one and it finally paid off. Today we’re national champions.”

The Gamecocks jumped out to a big lead as they were up by 14 after one quarter. UConn played better as the night wore on, eventually cutting the deficit to six with 1:30 to go in the third quarter. South Carolina pulled away in the fourth quarter thanks to its domination on the boards. The Gamecocks grabbed seven more rebounds than the Huskies did in the final quarter.

South Carolina outrebounded UConn 49-24 for the game, including 21-6 in offensive rebounding.

South Carolina was the No. 1 team in the nation wire-to-wire. The Gamecocks were 2-0 against UConn this season. And now South Carolina is 2-0 in national title games.

The Gamecocks' perfect record in national title games is something head coach Dawn Staley wanted to remind reporters about heading into Sunday’s game. That’s as UConn and Auriemma’s 11-0 mark in championship games was a popular talking point.

After the game, Staley said her team’s run was “divinely ordered.”

“We were not going to be denied,” she said.

Sunday’s loss is the first for Auriemma and the Huskies in a national championship game.

“We just didn’t have enough,” he said. “I’m proud of our guys just to get here, just to be in this situation.”

Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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