Since then, Staley has recruited as good or better than UConn coach Geno Auriemma, nearly matched his salary and made his team a constant threat for a deep run in the tournament.
She has not returned to the title game until now.
If she can win the Gamecocks their second championship, the program’s status as a powerhouse will be confirmed; if they lose, it could be taken as evidence that UConn’s dominance persists despite all the growth that has occurred around the sport.
Can South Carolina score enough?
South Carolina knows the key to their game is stifling defense. The question is whether his guards, who underperformed in some of the early rounds, can rack up enough points to stay ahead of the Huskies.
Destanni Henderson and Zia Cooke had crucial 3-point shots against Louisville, but the Huskies held Stanford — usually a strong team behind the arc — to just four triples in the semis. Gamecocks guards will need to get creative to complement Aliyah Boston’s consistent and prolific scoring.
Aliyah Boston will of course be a focal point.
Boston won this year’s Naismith Trophy earlier this week, which means the best college basketball players from this year and last year (Bueckers) will compete for the game’s biggest prize.
Boston, a 6-foot-5 forward, has played remarkably over the past two games, increasing the box score but mostly playing with confidence and control. She avoided fouls out of frustration and found ways to make teams pay to double and triple her.
She’ll have to summon that strength and patience once again this season if the Gamecocks are to beat the Huskies.
If the Final Four games are any indication, this championship game will be physical. South Carolina hasn’t been particularly effective from the free throw line this season, making just 67.7% of its shots. But the Gamecocks made a higher percentage of their chances against Louisville, mostly thanks to Boston’s impressive consistency. In what looks to be a tightly contested game, it will be important to make the most of those opportunities.