As most of America is distracted this week with the New England Patriots dynasty getting ready to try for another Super Bowl title, the actual best sports program in the country came to Colonial Life Arena.
No. 1 UConn beat South Carolina 83-58, and to watch the Huskies win is to wonder how they ever lose. With apologies to Bill Belichick, UConn is best-coached team in America.
The Gamecocks are, after all, the defending national champions. It says so right there on the banner that hung in the rafters at Colonial Life on Thursday night, but on the floor under that banner UConn reminded USC and the 18,000 fans in attendance that they are the perennial national champions.
“We’re trying to come out every game that we play … in such a way that if you really know a lot about basketball, you’re going to say, ‘Wow, that’s amazing,’ and if you only know a little about basketball, you’re going to be able to appreciate what we’re doing,” Huskies coach Geno Auriemma said.
The Huskies (21-0) have won 11 national titles and now have won 132 of their past 133 games. Mississippi State upset them in the Final Four last year, clearing the way for the Gamecocks to claim this most recent national title, but UConn has reestablished its stranglehold on the sport this season.
There’s a constant debate that underlies the women’s game about whether UConn is so dominant that it hurts the health of women’s collegiate basketball overall, but the argument melts away as you watch the Huskies because they play the game so beautifully. It’s a lot of fun to watch unless you’re on the receiving end of it, as South Carolina was Thursday.
The Huskies were up 13-4, 35-16 and 59-26 at various stages of the game.
“Our kids are pretty good at making plays,” Auriemma said. “They are growing up a lot. I wasn’t sure we had this in us. We have grown up a lot. We have matured a little bit since the beginning of the season. Our guys that I expected to play great, did play great, that’s kind of who we are right now. That was fun to watch, I enjoyed watching it.”
South Carolina, which is 0-6 all-time against the Huskies, is ranked seventh in the country and was playing in front of a raucous crowd, and UConn carved it up in clinical fashion. The Huskies had four players with at least 14 points and had 18 assists on their 30 baskets. They grabbed 19 offensive rebounds. They made near-perfect outlet passes and rotated beautifully on defense. They outscored South Carolina 29-8 in the second quarter.
South Carolina coach Dawn Staley called the Huskies “a team that picks people apart,” and it felt very apt.
The Huskies have won 62 of their past 73 games against top 10 teams and 48 consecutive road games.
“They’re still UConn,” South Carolina star A’ja Wilson said. “It is what it is.”