South Carolina is the women's NCAA basketball champions
A MARTINEZ, HOST:
Now to some other news this morning, this coming from the basketball court. Before last night, the celebrated University of Connecticut women's basketball team had played in 11 national championship games and won all of them. That perfect record is no more. On the court in Minneapolis, the South Carolina Gamecocks dominated UConn from start to finish and won 64-49. It's the Gamecocks' second championship since 2017. Joining us now is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, a lot of buzz about this game going in. South Carolina was the overall No. 1 seed, but UConn finally seemed to hit its stride after an up-and-down season. The betting types said it would be close. A 15-point win, though, is not close. What happened?
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: (Laughter) The betting types must have not believed how big and relentless and good South Carolina is. It was obvious from the start. The Gamecocks blasted to a 13-2 lead. They were grabbing nearly every rebound. In fact, for the game, they got 25 more rebounds than UConn. That's a whopping figure. The Huskies made a few runs, got within six points late in the third quarter, but that was as close as it got.
MARTINEZ: Now, we heard a lot about South Carolina's player of the year, Aliyah Boston, who's really virtually unstoppable under the basket. How much of a difference was she in the win?
GOLDMAN: You know, she was very good with 11 points and 16 rebounds. Almost every outing, she gets a double-double. That's double figures in points and rebounds. But in this game, the star was 5-foot-7 senior guard Destanni Henderson. Her last game was her best. She had a career high 26 points, and it was her aggressive defense on UConn star Paige Bueckers - that was a big reason why Bueckers never fueled a serious comeback. And Henderson talked about that defense on ESPN right after the game.
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DESTANNI HENDERSON: I knew I had to use my speed and make sure I stay with her. I think that's what we've been practicing all along. And the first time we played them, that really worked out well for us. So I knew to come into this game, we had to bring the same momentum.
GOLDMAN: So a great game for Destanni Henderson, who, A, has to be the darling of headline writers everywhere - you know, the ones who wrote after the game "Team Of Destanni." Sorry. Now, one other note - this is South Carolina's second championship under Dawn Staley. She's now the first Black head coach in men's or women's Division I basketball to win multiple titles.
MARTINEZ: All right. Now, it seems like we've got a pretty big men's game tonight, men's championship tonight, two well-known programs, two blue bloods - Kansas and North Carolina. How do you think this one's going to go?
GOLDMAN: Kansas is favored by four points, like South Carolina was in the women's final. But I would be very surprised if the Jayhawks have a similar runaway win. North Carolina showed us all how good it can be in that epic semifinal win over Duke Saturday, which sent legendary head coach Mike Krzyzewski into retirement. What's worrisome for the Tar Heels, though, is the health of their best big man, Armando Bacot. He turned an ankle against Duke, but he's apparently moving well. He's ready to go. That's critical because North Carolina has to be able to defend the Jayhawks' 6'10" 250-pound David McCormack, who was devastatingly good in the Jayhawks' semifinal win over Villanova.
MARTINEZ: All right. A four-point spread, Kansas favorite - who do you like?
GOLDMAN: Kansas. The Jayhawks are a really fast team, very good defensively, they pressure opponents full court. They have McCormack down low, and among other really good players, a talented and versatile guard, Ochai Agbaji. He was great in that 16-point win over Villanova, hitting six three-point shots. And, you know, I think people undervalue Kansas because it's a program that always seems to have very good teams but only one title to show for it in recent years. I also think this is as good a chance as the Jayhawks have had to win their first championship since 2008.
MARTINEZ: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Tom, thanks a lot.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
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