February 9, 2021 

Takeaways from UConn’s win over South Carolina

What we learned when #1 played #2

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Number one met number two, and it wasn’t anything like it should have been — an empty Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, and me, here on my sofa instead of making that drive and reporting for you in person. The game, too, was disjointed, but a battle of strengths ultimately won by UConn, 63-59, in overtime.

Even so, this one offered a look at one of the best bigs in the country, South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston, against a UConn team led by co-favorite for freshman of the year in Paige Bueckers.

Let’s dig into what happened:

Go big or go home

Early on, South Carolina’s physicality gave the Gamecocks an edge, with both teams struggling to make shots, and neither side sinking a three in the first quarter. Now, South Carolina is the third-best team in the country in rebounding rate, but UConn wasn’t far behind, entering the game eighth in the country.

An 18-10 board edge for the Gamecocks after one quarter, including five from Brea Beal, reflected an edge in keeping territory in the paint. UConn tried to counter with players like Olivia Nelson-Ododa and Aaliyah Edwards stretching out to the three-point line, but those shots didn’t fall. And Boston’s three early blocks reflected a maturity inside that’s made her an obvious future WNBA lottery pick since the moment she arrived on the South Carolina campus. She finished with 17 points and 15 rebounds.

Aubrey Griffin changed the game

It’s one of the givens when you watch UConn: if there’s an intensity gap, Aubrey Griffin comes into the game and closes it. Nine first-half minutes, three rebounds, a block and two steals, Griffin was just what Geno Auriemma needed to counter South Carolina in this rock fight of a first half.

And it was contagious.

The youth are learning

Seriously, how are these two both freshmen.

The best things in life are free

UConn did not get a free throw attempt until the 7:00 mark of the third quarter. Aaliyah Edwards missed them both. The Huskies also missed their first ten three-point attempts. Even so, the Huskies stayed in this one thanks to playmaking like this from Bueckers on a night her deep ball wasn’t falling.

Nika Muhl followed with a drive of her own, completing a three-point play to finally give UConn a free throw just under the five-minute mark in the third quarter.

The presence of multiple combo-guard talents, both freshmen, should be a key driver of UConn, elevating the team’s floor for years to come.

Muhl hit the first three of the game for UConn early in the fourth quarter. It is a tribute to how many ways the Huskies can beat you that the nation’s best team in field goal percentage struggled this mightily and still figured out how to stay with the nation’s top-ranked team anyway.

The drought

Not only did UConn lead, 50-44, they had four field goal attempts with that six-point lead. They missed them all. And Boston, playing with four fouls, continued to make deliberate, well-calculated moves in and around the paint.

The bigger factor, though, was South Carolina simply shutting down the nation’s best-shooting team offensively. The Gamecocks finished the way they started. Until…

Sense of the moment

In the game against Tennessee, Bueckers struggled from the field. Didn’t matter. She took the late three that sealed the game.

It happened again Monday night, though Bueckers’ struggles were mostly from three. She did not hesitate to take command, to be the one calling her own number on consecutive possessions to tie the game at 54 and send it to OT. And an early steal in overtime, leading to a runout and ultimately drawing a foul and two free throws, gave the Huskies a 56-54 lead. South Carolina countered to go up 59-56, but Bueckers took charge once more, hitting two more baskets in consecutive possessions to give the Huskies the lead. And then she tossed up a three at the shot clock buzzer to put this one away, giving her 31 points on the night.

Believe the hype.

Written by Howard Megdal

Howard is the founder of The Next and editor-in-chief.

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