No. 1 South Carolina cruises in 18-point win over No. 5 UConn for first in series history

Senior guard Tyasha Harris led South Carolina to its first victory over Connecticut. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

No. 1 South Carolina left little doubt the Gamecocks are worthy of the top seed in next month’s NCAA tournament. On the flip side, No. 5 Connecticut definitely has concerns to work out.

South Carolina ran away with a 70-52 victory over UConn, their first in the series, in front of a sold-out crowd of 18,000 fans at Colonial Life Arena on Monday night. The Gamecocks (23-1) had lost all eight games against the powerhouse program heading into the game.

It’s the first time UConn (20-3) has lost three games by double-digits in a single season since 2004-05, per ESPN Stats and Information. The Huskies’ three losses are to the top three teams in the country in the Associated Press poll.

Boston, Harris take over for South Carolina

Senior Tyasha Harris and freshman Aliyah Boston took full control and led the Gamecocks to victory. Harris had 19 points and 11 assists with a steal, keying most of the Gamecocks’ points in a big win for a program and looking for another title. Per ESPN, Harris was responsible for 67 percent of the team’s points in one fashion or another.

Boston reached the double-double with six minutes left in the third, and she finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds along with two blocks.

Fellow freshman Zia Cooke had 15 points, four rebounds and three steals. Senior Mikiah Herbert Harrigan added 10 points, seven rebounds, two assists and three blocks.

As a team, the Gamecocks shot 43.9 percent overall, including 8-of-22 from 3-point range (36.4 percent).

UConn’s struggles begin early

UConn’s defense was good in the early minutes, keeping South Carolina to 11 points in the first quarter.

But the Gamecocks were better, holding UConn to a single bucket on 1 of 16 shooting with five turnovers. The Huskies’ 2 points in the first were the fewest they’ve scored in a period since the the change to quarters in the 2014-15 season, per ESPN Stats and Information.

The fewest in any quarter for UConn was six, which happened against Baylor in the fourth quarter earlier this season.

The Huskies continued to struggle, shooting 31 percent and falling into a 35-23 hole at the half. They stuck with South Carolina in the second half, even coming close to a single-digit deficit early in the fourth quarter.

The team shot 36.1 percent overall and made 4 of 17 3-pointers. Geno Auriemma told ESPN before the game his team might have to make more than 10 behind the arc to win. UConn surprisingly outscored South Carolina in the paint, while the Gamecocks held the upper hand from 3-point range.

Crystal Dangerfield again led the charge for UConn, dropping in 25 points and making 3 of 7 3-pointers. Megan Walker had 10 points and eight rebounds. Olivia Nelson-Ododa had 10 and nine, respectively. Only two other players scored in the game.

Anna Makurat, who had come on strong in recent weeks, went 0 for 5.

What this means for UConn

It’s tough to be a Husky. The expectation is a championship every single year. And this squad doesn’t look up to the task given the other competition this season.

All three of the AP top seeds have now crushed Connecticut in head-to-head meetings. Baylor won, 74-58. Oregon gave the Huskies their worst home loss since 2005 last week, 74-56. And now the loss to South Carolina. Combined, the Huskies have lost by 52 points.

They’ve held a top-5 ranking for a record 253 consecutive weeks dating to February 2007. But barring another upset-laden week in the sport, that should end a week from today.

They’re also likely out of contention for one of the four top seeds in the NCAA tournament, at least for now. The Huskies were on the 2-seed line in the first release last week.

South Carolina, No. 2 Baylor and No. 3 Oregon have taken strong hold of their top seed positions, but the fourth, Louisville, lost back-to-back games last week that could open up a chance for UConn to crawl back up. Given that South Carolina was the Huskies’ final ranked opponent, it will take some help for Connecticut to be considered.

UConn, a young and inexperienced squad, has the talent to make a deep tournament run but the last few weeks have shown how far the top three seeds are above the rest.

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