Breanna Stewart had 25 points and 10 rebounds as No. 1 Connecticut again proved who rules the women’s game, running past No. 2 South Carolina, 66-54, on Monday night.
The Gamecocks had won their first 22 games and, in front of their first sold-out crowd at 18,000-seat Colonial Life Arena, figured to give the three-time defending NCAA champion Huskies (23-0) their sternest test of the season.
Instead, Stewart and UConn led by 15 points in the second quarter and never let the Southeastern Conference champs get back in it.
Stewart was the main reason why, finishing with her ninth double-double this season to go with five blocks. The 6-foot-4 senior also played strong defense against South Carolina’s inside stars in A’ja Wilson and Alaina Coates. The Gamecocks duo, averaging 28 points combined this season, ended with just about half that (15) in their first loss of the season.
The Huskies also upped their record to 19-3 in No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdowns. It was their second consecutive such win over South Carolina, which lost, 87-62, at UConn as the country’s top team last February.
Morgan Tuck had 16 points and Moriah Jefferson 12 for UConn.
Wilson and Sarah Imovbioh had 13 points apiece to lead South Carolina.
UConn again showed quickly why it has no equal in the women’s game. Stewart and Tuck each had six points as the Huskies opened up a 16-8 lead. They were still ahead, 20-12, when Stewart hit a three-pointer and a driving layup to increase the margin.
South Carolina, though, lost its leading scorer in Wilson with 4:22 left in the second quarter as she injured her left leg. Wilson was jostling for a rebound when she landed hard and was in obvious pain just off the court. Trainers worked on her lower leg before she was helped up and led to the locker room.
Wilson returned to the bench late in the third quarter, her lower leg heavily taped, and played the final period.
It’s the second game that South Carolina played without a key performer for a long stretch. Tiffany Mitchell sustained a lower back bruise last Thursday night in a win over Kentucky. Mitchell, too, had to be helped off the court right before halftime. However, she returned to the bench for the second half and could’ve played. Coach Dawn Staley chose to sit her out.